As we age the amount of energy our cells can produce gradually wanes. A new study shows that short bursts of intense exercise can stop and even reverse that decline.
Researchers recruited 72 men and women, and split them into groups of those aged 18 to 30 and those aged 65 to 80.
Regular high intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves bursts of intense activity followed by low-intensity recovery periods, was found to increase the mitochondria’s ability to generate energy by 69 per cent in older volunteers and by 49 per cent in younger subjects.
The volunteers did four minutes of high-intensity cycling with weights, followed by three minutes of slow pedalling with none, repeated four times. As well as the three-weekly cycling sessions, they did two 45-minutes walks at a low intensity on a treadmill.
Two other arms of the study were asked to do either 12 weeks of strength (or resistance) training or combined aerobic exercise and resistance training.
At the end of 12 weeks muscle biopsies were taken to assess the effects.
The study’s senior author, Dr Sreekumaran Nair, said: ‘Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these [HIIT] exercise programmes when it comes to delaying the ageing process. These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.
‘If people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity interval training, but I think it would be more beneficial if they could do three to four days of interval training and then a couple days of strength training.’
In recent years much has been made in the lay media about high intensity interval training (HIIT) as being the most time-effective way of improving fitness and helping with weight reduction. This Mayo Clinic study does appear to suggest that this type of exercise can reverse the declining ability of our cells to generate energy. Not only that, it appeared to improve heart and lung health over the study period.
However, HIIT was less effective than other exercise at improving muscle strength, and this study was conducted in relatively small numbers of people. It does suggest, however, that the doctor’s maxim of exercising regularly, and at the highest level you are able to, remains sound advice.
Research score: 3/5