We know that a healthy diet and exercise are the most important things we can do to keep us strong mentally and physically, and if you’re like me you are constantly looking for ways to exercise better and more effectively.
I for one have always loved my brisk walks every morning and feel I get the most benefit from these, even more than from the popular HIIT or interval training exercises that have been in vogue in recent years. Finally a new study puts some science behind the type of exercise I enjoy.
“The study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, finds that each approach to exercise has advantages, but the impacts on blood pressure, body fat and other aspects of metabolism may be greater after standard, half-hour or longer, moderate workouts than those eyeblink-quick interval training.” NYtimes PhysED
The rise of HIIT High Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training is alluring, trendy and a frequent topic of discussion among the training community. In recent years the HIIT workout or High Intensity Interval Training has gained much popularity among health buffs and regular exercisers for its quick very intense workouts that result in getting a hard workout in a short amount of time. Makes sense given our hectic lifestyles everyone is looking for the quickest way to achieve the best workouts.
HIIT is a style of workout that involves a mix of extremely short spurts of intense exercise followed by a minute or two of rest (30 seconds on, 1-2 minute rest and repeat 6 times). HIIT is quick and potent, with studies showing that a few minutes — or even seconds of interval training can improve people’s health over time.
For many years with the increased popularity of HIIT, moderate exercise took a backseat and was looked at as a less desirable form of exercise leading to assumptions that we may not get the same level of benefits as HIIT..
HIIT vs moderate aerobic exercise
But many questions remain unanswered about the relative merits of quick intervals versus those of more-traditional sustained aerobic workouts such as brisk walking, jogging or bike riding. Especially if one engages only in one type of exercise or the other, the long term benefits of HIIT vs the moderate aerobic exercise are unclear. Enter this new study that looks at the merits of both types of exercise.
Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, began to consider looking into how people’s bodies change if they train exclusively with intervals or standard moderate workouts, if they followed the current exercise guidelines for both these types of workouts.
“Medical and sports groups suggest we interval train no more than three times a week, to avoid over-straining muscles and cardiovascular systems, meaning if we exercise only with HIIT, we are inactive four days a week or so. Comparable guidelines for moderate exercise suggest getting out and moving at least five times a week and for at least 30 minutes each time.” NYtimes Phys Ed
How the study was conducted
For their research study they first recruited sedentary, overweight, adult men. (They did not include women, because of concerns about menstrual cycles affecting metabolic results, but hope to involve women in any larger, future experiments.)
Measured the participants baseline numbers: They invited these men to the lab, measured their fitness, body compositions and blood pressures, and asked them to have shakes with high fat to see how their metabolisms responded to the nutrient. They also fitted them with blood-sugar monitors to wear at home for a week to gauge their everyday blood-sugar control which is a measure of metabolic health.
Here’s how the participants exercised
The men were divided into two groups. The first group were asked to start interval training three times a week on stationary bicycles at the lab, riding as hard as possible for 30 seconds, resting for two minutes, and repeating that sequence four to six times (this is the typical HIIT stye of workout).
The second group began a typical moderate-exercise program, riding bikes at the lab five times a week at a pace they could comfortably sustain for 30 to 40 minutes ( speaking should be difficult but not hard).
The results are in
At the end of the six weeks, both groups returned to the lab for re-testing and here’s what the scientists found.
The HIIT group of men over the course of six weeks pedaled intensely for a grand total of less than an hour each week.
The moderate-intensity group worked out for at least 2.5 hours each week during the same period.
Blood sugar control is best on days we exercise: The most interesting observation scientists made is that everyone’s blood-sugar control was best only on the days they exercised. Meaning three times a week for the HIIT riders and five days for the moderate group. On the remaining days when the men did not exercise blood sugar levels tended to rise. Bottom line folks, try and get in even a little exercise every day!
All men were fitter: Almost all men were fitter and to about the same extent no matter how they exercised. Makes sense given that any form of exercise is good and positive results in how we look can be seen in as little as a few weeks.
Moderate exercise group had better results overall: But only those in the moderate-exercise group had shed much body fat, improved their blood pressure and were better able to metabolize the extra fat from any excess food such as that fatty shake.
“High-intensity workouts get a lot of attention and can be great for health. But moderate physical activity may have metabolic advantages.” American College of Sports Medicine
Long term benefits of moderate exercise
Researchers concluded that consistent moderate exercise (30 min a day) for at least 5 days a week has long term benefits for our body at the cellular level leading to participants shedding more body fat, improved blood pressure and are better able to metabolize any extra fat from foods.
“The impacts on blood pressure, body fat and other aspects of metabolism may be greater after standard, half-hour, moderate workouts than eyeblink-quick interval training.”
A combination works well
Taken as a whole the results indicate that intervals and traditional exercise alter our bodies in different ways, and we may want to consider what we hope to achieve when choosing how best to exercise.
Frequent, almost-daily moderate exercise may be preferable for improving blood pressure and long term blood-sugar control, while a little HIIT is likely to help you get in shape faster than hours and hours of easier cycling or walking.
The big picture – All exercise is good!
The most important lesson is to move often and daily.
If you like HIIT do it 3 days a week and moderate exercise such as walking or a longer bike ride on the other days, and repeat.
Exercise , stay fit, be strong.