Paul T. Williams, a statistician at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has followed almost 40,000 men and women who walk for exercise for more than 10 years. His latest report shows that the faster you walk, the longer you live (PLoS One, December 2013). Picking up the pace is more healthful than just walking slowly, even if you go longer than the recommended 30 minutes per day. In his study group, those who walked at a very slow pace (24 minutes per mile) were 44 percent more likely to die in 10 years than those who walked at a faster pace.
Six years ago, the same author showed that among older runners, the faster runners had healthier medical profiles. They had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, October 2008).
Intervals: The Best Way to Increase Intensity
The most efficient way to increase intensity and feel less stress on your muscles is to use interval training. When you exercise, pick up the pace for a short period. As you start to feel burning or fatigue in your muscles, slow down. When the burning and fatigue are gone, pick up the pace. When you feel the burning again, slow down. Alternate these pickups and recoveries until your muscles start to feel stiff and then quit for the day.
Intervals Better than Continuous Pace Exercise
Norwegian researchers showed that high intensity interval training improves every conceivable measure of heart function and heart strength and also helps to prevent both the pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome and the heart damage it causes (Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews, July 2009). Controlled interval training is now a treatment for heart failure. High-intensity interval training:
• raises the good HDL cholesterol far more than less intense exercise does (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, March 2009).
• enlarges telomeres, the end caps that protect your chromosomes. The size of your telomeres predicts how long you will live (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Jan 2012).
• increases both the number and size of mitochondria. The larger and more mitochondria, the longer you can expect to live.
• increases VO2max, the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can take in and use. VO2max can be used to predict your likelihood to suffer a heart attack (Med Sci Sports Exerc, November 2011;43(11):2024-30).
Calculate your VO2max
• makes your cells more sensitive to insulin, which in turn helps to prevent diabetes, heart attacks, obesity and certain cancers.
Interval Training Takes Less Time for Greater Health Benefits
To be competitive, all athletes must train very intensely some of the time. Interval training on a bike can provide you with all the health and fitness benefits of exercising less intensely for a much longer period of time (The Journal of Physiology, March 2010). In this study, subjects used a stationary bicycle to do ten one-minute sprints with a one-minute rest between each at 95 percent of their maximal heart rate, three times a week. This takes less effort than an all-out sprint at close to 100 percent of maximal heart rate. The study supports other research that shows that high-intensity interval training improves all the measures of fitness far more than continuous, less intense exercise. The same authors showed that a similar short workout of all-out sprinting at maximal heart rate took about 90 minutes per week (three workouts of 30 minutes each) and was as effective in achieving fitness and health benefits as many hours of exercising at a much more leisurely pace (The Journal of Physiology, September 2006).
More Benefits from Intense Exercise
Intense exercise for older people is still a controversial subject, but it is far more effective than casual exercise in preventing and treating diabetes (Circulation, July 2008) and reducing belly fat (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, November 2008); Vigorous exercise protects obese people from heart attacks and prolongs their lives, even if they don’t lose weight (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, October 2006); Intense exercise is more effective in preventing heart attacks than less intense exercise done more frequently (MSSE, July 1997); Death rate from cardiovascular disease is lowered by high intensity activities such as jogging, swimming, hiking, tennis and climbing stairs, but not by lower intensity activities such as walking, bowling, sailing, golf and dancing (Heart, May 2003).
What Does This Mean for You?
Since exercise can cause heart attacks in people who already have blocked arteries leading to their hearts, you may want to check first with your doctor. If you are not a regular exerciser, start out very slowly and jog, cycle or do your chosen exercise at a very low intensity each day until you feel the least fatigue in your muscles and then stop. If your muscles feel stiff when you start to exercise, take the day off. In six weeks, most people can work up to a half hour a day of very slow exercise.
You are now ready to start training. Your new workouts will start as your old ones did. Start out very slowly. After five or more minutes, you should be warmed up and ready to start training. Pick up the pace for a few seconds and slow down as soon as you start to feel short of breath or burning in your muscles. Go slowly for as long as it takes to recover your breath and for your muscle to feel fresh again. Then pick up the pace again. Alternate these pickups and recoveries until your muscles start to feel tight and then stop for the day. If your muscles feel tight at the start of a workout, take that day off. Tight muscles mean that your muscles have not recovered from a previous workout. You are now training like a real athlete.