Getting More from Less

October 29, 2010 in Health, Weight Management by Mary Ireland

A study by America On the Move concluded that Americans average 5117 steps per day – a shortfall of 4883 from the recommended 10,000 steps per day recommended for fitness. The American participants were well below the Japanese (7,168), Switzerland (9,695) and Australia (9,695).

When the benefits of exercise are so well known, why do people consistently choose to exercise less than they should? Is it just too much effort to exercise? Is there just not enough time to work in that workout? Are there just not enough results for the effort? What is the solution?

According to research from McMaster University, intensity training -- using short bursts of high intensity sprints -- not only results in improved muscle and exercise performance, it also improves the function and structure of blood vessels of the cardiovascular system.

The training method used in the study was cycling. Three days a week, one group completed four to six 30-second sprints as fast as they could with 4.5 minutes of recovery between sprints. The other group, completed between 40 and 60 minutes of moderate-intensity (65% of their training range) cycling five days a week. Both groups showed the same amount of performance improvement and improvement in the structure and function of arteries. The cardiovascular improvements are important because aging causes the arteries become stiffer and lose their ability to dilate, contributing to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The results of the study indicate that shorter more intense works outs can produce the same effect as traditional, longer and less intense workouts. So perhaps some, if not all, of the objections mentioned at the beginning of this blog can be addressed by interval training.

As I mentioned in my blog, Exercising Your Options, I stumbled on this quite early. Then came some “new research” showing that you burn more fat if you do the longer, more moderate workouts. I tried those – probably longer than I should have – and found that they just weren’t as effective as working more intensely. I wholeheartedly endorse high-intensity interval work outs. You can get great results in less work out time, plus high-intensity training can be quite exhilarating.

The College of Sports Medicine recommends using HRR (Heart Rate Reserve) as the measurement to establish your training range. The most accurate way to determine how hard your heart is working is by using a heart rate monitor. You can also combine high intensity aerobic and resistance training for a high intensity circuit workout.

A word of caution here, you need a baseline of fitness before starting an interval program. When you increase your intensity level, your ligaments tendons, joints and muscles must be up to the challenge. The American College of Sports Medicine offers great suggestions for building a work out program. Also, you might be surprised at how adding just a little intensity -- to start just 10 seconds of a little extra effort -- at the end of a walk, bike ride or other aerobic exercise can make your feel better and get to your goal faster.

Don't overdo it! Working slowly is much more effective than having to put your exercise program on hold waiting for an injury to heal!

My exercise program these lingering fall days consists of 30-second sprints to see these views: