Fine Tuning Your Exercise Regimen

February 23, 2016 in Exercise, Health by Joyce Bunderson

Most of us Americans have to pay attention to our diet and exercise if we want to enjoy the benefits of good health. I remember when I was young; I’d eat big ole cheeseburgers frequently. Nothing stopped me from a big plate of pasta, meat sauce and Parmesan cheese; the meal topped off with a slice of pie à la mode. The diminutive half-cup serving of ice cream listed as the serving size of the ice cream container was the subject of jokes and a good laugh. On Saturdays, donuts were frequently breakfast for the family – our family of five could consume a lot of doughnuts – and I was part of that. I stayed fairly thin and felt healthy. I didn’t specifically exercise on a regular basis. But as life has gone on, I’ve little at a time, refined and refined again, my eating and exercise habits. I guess that for many of us, our bodies can take the trauma of bad diet and insufficient exercise for a long while, before it becomes apparent that we need to pay attention if we want to keep our health.

As you regular readers are well aware, I write frequently about the details of optimal eating habits – that is, the habits that are likely to support health. I know that you are well informed regarding the benefits of exercise also. But today, I just want to share a little hint from new research that I discovered a few days ago; maybe it will help you with fine-tuning your exercise routine.

The Journal of Physiology has posted an article that is motivating to me. Like many persons who have witnessed family members and friends lose their memories and thinking abilities, I would like to avoid that if possible. The bottom line of the study is that some forms of exercise may be much more effective than others at growing new brain cells (neurogenesis) in an already mature brain. The study published that I’ve linked above is a study done with rats; so if you like, you can say, “I’m not a rat, thank you very much.” But since there is good evidence that neurons and how they react are quite similar across many species; maybe, just maybe, the researchers in Finland are on to something. I’ll describe in great brevity what they learned. I don’t know how long the link will last for the full article, but at this time you can download the full article, if you’re interested.

The researchers had very innovative ways to compare different groups of animals to simulate different types of activity levels and different types of activities. The first group of rats (all males) was the sedentary animals. To make this group sedentary was pretty easy; take the treadmill out of the cage. A second group was the weight-training group. The rats had weights tied to their tails and were put in a situation where they had to climb walls hauling the little weights. High-intensity interval training for rats was the toughest; the rats sprinted at a strenuous pace for three minutes, followed by two minutes of fast walking, repeated three times total for 15 minutes. The last group was the rats that just voluntarily ran on a treadmill in their cage – rats like to run – so they do.

When guessing about the outcomes of this study, it’s pretty easy to rule out the sedentary rats, because, well…… we’ve just read too much research that a sedentary life style is risky. Now if you’re like me, and are not presently doing interval training, you’re guessing that the interval training will be the optimal exercise; a little fear is flowing through our veins that the interval training is going to be the answer. Surprise, surprise, surprise!; as Gomer Pyle would say. The free runners came out on top.

It really was a big surprise to me that the high-intensity interval training did not promote significant neurogenesis, but it did make rats stronger and more physically fit. The high-intensity interval training rats had higher amounts of new brain cells compared with the sedentary rats, but far less than the amounts in the voluntary distance runners.

The researchers even have a theory as to why the interval training brain benefits may be undercut. They are guessing that the interval training, by design, is much more physiologically draining and stressful than moderate running. It’s stressful and that tends to decrease adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

The study had much more depth than I’m reporting – even special variations in rat genes to learn other things about rats with different propensities toward exercise. But I’m just  considering the broad view.

So as we’re always trying to benefit from applying the results of good research, what can we learn from the experimental results from these male rats? I’d say, if you’re sedentary, if you’re only weight training, or only doing high intensity interval workouts, try a long walk or bike ride periodically. It’s pretty well documented that aerobic exercise benefits our hearts, but to specifically benefit neurogenesis in our hippocampus, take a walk or bike ride. Don’t throw out your resistance and interval exercise; just fine-tune your regimen a bit.