Volume 2, Issue 17
April 23, 2009

Are you exercising too hard?

You probably know that of all the things you can do to stay healthy and functionally young as you get older, exercise is the most important — by far!ÿ But does that mean you have to do it like that crazy gym teacher made you do it back in the good old days? If a little exercise is good, then a lot must be better, right? Well a new study gives us a very interesting answer to that question.

The study looked at 27 women between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. The researchers divided the women into three different groups. One group did not exercise at all. The second group, the low intensity group, exercised five days a week at a level of intensity that they easily tolerated.ÿ This means that they always exercised below their lactate threshold. The lactate threshold is that level of exercise at which the muscles are maxed out in their ability to convert oxygen to energy. When they reach that level, they start to make energy anaerobically, and in the process they produce lactic acid. 

The third group was the high-intensity group. These women also exercised for five days a week, but three of those days their exercise forced them to go over their lactate threshold during the entire exercise period. This means that they were very breathless during the exercise. This is the kind of exercise that nobody likes. On the other two days, the third group exercised at the same intensity level as the low-intensity group.

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Both groups exercised long enough to burn 400 calories during each exercise period. On average this would be about 30 minutes for the high-intensity group and about 60 minutes for the low-intensity group. So what happened? Did the long and slow turtles get the best results, or the fast and furious rabbits?

The study went on for three months. In terms of weight, there wasn't much difference. The turtles lost an average of two pounds. And the rabbits lost three pounds.

But there was a big difference in waist measurements. The turtles lost one inch, while the rabbits lost five inches!

Both groups had a similar small reduction in blood pressure. But the turtles did better with cholesterol. The turtles had a five point increase in their HDL cholesterol (the "good one"), whereas the rabbits had only a two point elevation. Likewise, the triglyceride levels also decreased further in the turtle group.

The biggest difference between the two groups was seen in the percentage of body fat. The turtles lost 0.4%, while the rabbits lost 3%. That's a whopping six times more!

So is more better? Well that depends on how you look at it. First of all, both groups won. After only three months, they both had the kind of effects on their bodies that will decrease their risk of disease, and improve the quality and length of their life. No diet or supplement is going to do that.

But the rabbits had a greater effect on the factors that are the most influential on longevity and disease prevention. So I say they win overall.

However, my work with exercise physiology tells me that neither one of these groups did it right. The rabbits did too much exercise, and the turtles didn't do enough. Ideally, both groups should have performed their exercise in "intervals," instead of a continuous level of exertion.

"Interval" exercise means that instead of the turtles going slow all the time and the rabbits going fast all the time, they split the difference. So that they both go fast for two to three minutes, and then go slow for three to five minutes.

This fast/slow approach to exercise is by far and away the most effective. I think it would give you the best results in all categories (fat and blood pressure reduction, weight loss, and healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels). And it's also more fun. Going slow all the time is boring, and going fast all the time is tedious. Interval training gives you some variety and it's the best for your overall health.

So the next time you exercise, mix it up. Your body will love you for it.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Brian A. Irving; Christopher K. Davis; David W. Brock; Judy Y. Weltman; Damon Swift; Eugene J. Barrett; Glenn A. Gaesser; Arthur Weltman Med Sci Sports Exerc.ÿ 2008;40(11):1863-1872

Copyright 2009 Soundview Publishing, LLC

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