High Intensity Exercise May Keep You Healthier Longer


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Could exercise hold the key to eternal youth? According to a new study, high intensity interval training can hold many benefits, including reversing the effects of aging.

Already hailed as the “best workout for weight loss,” high intensity interval training has proven success in fat loss, muscle growth and overall athleticism. This type of exercise involves bouts of high intensity exercise mixed with a recovery period. This cycle is repeated for a duration of time to spike up the heart rate, allow it to come back to a normal zone, and then spike it back up again. In this study, it was revealed that a high intensity interval training method can benefit older populations in a whole new way.

Credit: Flickr, CC BY 2.0

To test their hypothesis, Dr. Sreekumaran Nair and a group of scientists from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota enlisted both young and older participants in the study. The younger ones ranged in age from 18 to 30 years old, and the older group ranged from 65 to 80 years old. The subjects were divided into three groups and given a different exercise program to follow for the next three months.

The first group was given the high intensity program, requiring them to complete this type of exercise on stationary bicycles three days a week, with “moderately difficult” treadmill walking on two other days. The second group was told to accomplish a strength training program which required them to train upper or lower body muscle groups two days a week. The third group was given a combination of these other two programs, which led them to cycle and lift weights at a lower intensity than the other groups. They attended the gym five days a week.

Related: High Impact Exercise Proves Most Effective for Shedding Pounds

All of the groups showed increased athleticism, better cardiovascular endurance, and were at lower risk of developing Type II diabetes. However, the first group, which performed the high intensity interval training method, showed the most improvement in reversing the effects of aging.

On a cellular level, high impact exercise shows a remarkable change in energy and efficiency in the human body. The mitochondria of the cell, which is responsible for providing energy, increased its capacity most effectively in those who did high impact exercise. In the younger participants, there was a 49 percent increase in mitochondrial capability, while the older group showed an increase of 65 percent.

Mitochondria (red) generate the chemical energy of cells. Credit: NICHD/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“Mitochondrial function is important to almost every cell in the human body,” said Jennifer Trilk, professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. “So when you don’t have mitochondrial function or when you have mitochondrial dysfunction, you have dysfunction of cells, so from a molecular standpoint, you start seeing cellular dysfunction years before you start seeing the global effect, which ends up coming out as symptoms of diseases: diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular disease.”

Mitochondria slowly loses its capacity as a person ages. To see that capacity nearly reversed as a result of exercise shows much promise as a way to keep people healthy for as long as possible.

Related: Older People Who Exercise Are More Likely to Survive Strokes, Study Says