Volume 12, Issue 22
You don't have to jog to get great
health benefits from exercise
Everybody knows that not long after you hit the 50-year mark you need to start exercising on a regular basis (if not sooner). It might not be your favorite thing to hear, but it is undeniably true. But not everybody knows the best way to exercise. Or how long you need to exercise. Many of us are really stretched for time. So how do you tell that person that they need to spend an hour every day exercising? It's just not going to work.

But what if there was a way to exercise as little as 15 minutes three times a week and still get huge benefits? In fact, what if there was a way to exercise for only 15 minutes and get more out of that than exercising four times longer? A new study shows us two things. One, there is a way to do just that. And two, this brief exercise method is capable of causing some measurable improvements in health.

Researchers recently looked at a group of 62 sedentary, postmenopausal women. All of them had mild cases of high blood pressure. They divided them into three groups. They had one group perform high intensity exercise for 15-25 minutes three times a week. The next group performed moderate intensity exercise for much longer — one hour, three times a week. And the third lucky group got to continue their couch habits. The study went on for 15 weeks.

Before I tell you the results, let me explain exactly what high- and moderate-intensity exercise amounted to in this study.

The high intensity group went as hard as they could for 30 seconds. At the end of the 30 second period, they were way out of breath, their hearts were racing, and they were glad the 30 seconds was over. Then they went easy for 2 minutes. Easy enough so that at the end of the two minutes they were ready to go at another 30 seconds again. They did this between six to ten times. Six times took them 15 minutes. If they did the whole 10 times, they spent 25 minutes.

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The moderate intensity group did what is probably what most people think of when they think of exercise. They just went at a relatively easy pace, non-stop for an hour. Here's what happened.

The blood pressures in the high intensity group decreased five to seven points. The blood pressures in the moderate group decreased about 30% less — three to five points. Not surprisingly, the blood pressures in the couch group did not change. The heart rates improved in both of the exercise groups. No improvement in the couch group. In terms of overall fitness performance, both the high intensity and the moderate groups were similar with a slight edge to the high intensity group. Of course, no change in the couch women.

The exercise that the researchers used in this study was swimming. Now I find that interesting for two reasons. First, past studies have shown that swimming doesn't have quite as strong of an aerobic affect as does exercise performed out of water. And second, swimming is much easier on sore backs, bad knees, and other physical ailments that many in the over-50 crowd have. So for those who find it difficult to run, ride bikes, or row this is good news. There are some other good lessons in this study.

First, if your goal is to maintain your health as you get older you need to exercise on a regular basis. Not doing that is a sure way to guarantee that you will not be at your best. The women in this study showed a decrease in their blood pressure. This proves that exercise creates positive changes in the way the body regulates its circulation status. So even if you have normal blood pressure, you will still see benefits in your circulation.

Second, it looks like just doing it three times a week is enough to see a measurable benefit in only 15 weeks. I'm wondering how great the benefits would be if you did that the next 15-20 years?

Third, although I still prefer out-of-water training, it's pretty clear that swimming is also a great way to get the job done.

And last, if you do the high-intensity method, you can see even greater benefits in a quarter to half as much time — a measly 15 minutes, three times a week. How good is that!

Yours for better health,

Mohr M, Nordsborg NB, Lindenskov A, et al. High-intensity intermittent swimming improves cardiovascular health status for women with mild hypertension. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:728289.

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