In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

May 11, 2017

Speed Up Your Workouts to Slow Down Aging

By In the Loop

Mayo Clinic researchers have found that high-intensity interval training — alternating short, intense bursts of exercise with more moderate effort — can slow the aging process.
Doctors have been talking up the benefits of exercise for years. The return on investment is so great that some have even written prescriptions to encourage their patients to get moving. "There are over 50 benefits to exercise," Donald Hensrud, M.D., says in this Mayo Clinic Minute. "If we had a pill that could do that, we'd be prescribing it for everyone."

If 50 reasons aren't enough to convince you to move it, move it, here's one more: It turns out that exercise may keep you forever young. Or, at least forever younger. Mayo researchers have discovered that high-intensity interval training (alternating high-intensity exercise with more moderate exercise) "puts the brakes on important markers of aging at the cellular level," according to our friends up north at Canada's The Globe and Mail. It turns out those short, intense bursts of effort lead to "increased activity" in the mitochondria, "the energy powerhouses in our cells."

This particular benefit of high-intensity interval training — essentially "reversing signs of aging within cells" — appears to increase as we age, according to AARP's coverage of the new research. The research team, led by Mayo Clinic endocrinologist K. Sreekumaran Nair, M.D., Ph.D., looked at two age groups in the Mayo study: ages 18 to 30 and 65 to 80. They found that the "over-65 group had a dramatic 69 percent increase in cells' ability to take in oxygen and produce energy; the under-30 group experienced a 49 percent boost."

That's significant, Dr. Nair tells the Star-Tribune. "Based on everything we know, there's no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process," he says. "These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine."

If you want to turn back time, try adding a high-intensity interval to any workout. How do you know if you're hitting the high-intensity mark? You probably won't be able to say more than a few words while working out at this level, and won't be able to maintain the effort for very long. And that's okay you don't need to. The high-intensity intervals may be as short as 30 seconds when you first start out. Eventually, you may be able to extend that effort for a few minutes. Between intervals, reduce your effort to give your body time to recover. For the best results, Dr. Nair tells the Star-Tribune he recommends "three to four days of interval training and then a couple of days of strength training."

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Tags: Aging, Dr Donald Hensrud, Dr. K Sreekumaran Nair, Research News

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