A study recently published in the Journal of Cell Metabolism (my go-to recreational reading resource) showed that exercise for seniors actually regenerates cells. In fact, interval type exercise (HIIT), bouts of intense exercise followed by a rest or less intense exercise, can reverse many degenerative problems associated with getting old.
Researchers divided participants into two groups – one between the ages of 18 to 30 and another between 65 and 80. Each group performed a set routine of exercises. When performing HIIT exercise, the young participants saw an impressive 49 per cent increase in mitochondrial capacity. The older group saw a staggering 69 per cent increase. (Mitochondria function as tiny batteries producing energy to fuel activity.)
The results of this study are impressive but not unique. Many studies have replicated similar outcomes using weight training or various interval formats, all pointing to the same conclusion. You can regain significant strength and vitality by simply using your body for its intended purpose or, simply put, use it or lose it.
With obesity at epidemic levels and Baby Boomers searching for the elixir of youth, this research couldn’t have come at a better time.
Past generations may have reclined into the welcoming arms of a sedentary retirement but Boomers define themselves differently. Not willing to settle for a game of cards at the local senior centre, Boomers are exploring, travelling and venturing into second careers.
The modern senior (don’t ever call them that!) isn’t hitting the gym intent on diversifying their speedo collection. Their focus is functional fitness. Boomers are exchanging years slouched over a desk for years enjoying life.
With new research pointing to the importance of intermittent activity, exercise experts have come to the realization that hours in the gym is not the best use of time for the average person. Conveniently, alternating bouts of more intense exercise fits better into people’s schedules and, more importantly, it’s much more palatable.
When your doctor says this may pinch, you know it’s going to hurt. Like tearing off a band aid, HIIT can ‘pinch’ but it’s over quick. Long bouts of cardio on the treadmill may pinch, but it’s going to hurt for 30-plus minutes … and its boring.
What makes interval training manageable for many exercisers is the short horizons. People can go hard for 20 seconds because they can see a rest coming in … 5, 4, 3, 2 and rest.
The type of activity and intensity performed during a HIIT session is determined by the participant. While an athlete may engage in sprints, a deconditioned person could walk as their activity.
Similarly, “challenging” is defined differently by everyone. In fact, some of our most deconditioned clients achieve the best workouts simply because they aren’t used to the protocol. And they come back for more.
Like a carrot on a stick, recovery periods act as a means of empowering exercisers and reinforcing accomplishment.
We ask clients to perform a single Tabata (20 second exercise/10 second rest/repeat) for a total of four minutes as per the original research protocol. ‘That’s it?’ Its not long before they ask if they should be going longer. Now that’s progress.
Of course, high intensity anything has an element of risk, which means you should chat with your doctor prior to jumping in feet first. Chances are you are already performing some element of HIIT training when carrying groceries or shovelling snow. The smart approach would be to do it regularly so that your body becomes accustomed to the routine.
This article originally appeared on edmontonjournal.com and was written by Paul Robinson