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Exercise that Goes All Out

Exercise that Goes All Out
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If you want to be healthy to a ripe old age, you have to exercise. Plain and simple. And there should be a place in your exercise repetoire for all kinds: walking, stretching, strength training. But with more and more research coming out about the subject, it looks like short bursts of intense exercise might be the more beneficial kind of exercise all round.

Intense exercise causes the body to change and morph on a molecular level in a way that milder exercise doesn’t. A study from the Scripp’s Research Institute in Florida bears this out. The study, published in June in the EMBO Journal revealed the effects of a particular protein, CRTC2.

The scientists were able to show – in mice – that following high-intensity exercise, which enlists the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response, CRTC2 combines signals from two different pathways, the adrenaline pathway and the calcium pathway, to direct muscle adaptation and growth only in the contracting muscle. This means that not only are specific targeted muscles, but they are also improved. In the animals, the muscles targeted increased by 15 percent. Says the lead researcher of the study, Michael Conkright, Ph.D. “We are now searching for molecular therapeutics that will activate the CRTC2 protein so that even an average exercise routine could potentially be enhanced and made more beneficial.”

The good news is that the definition of intense when it comes to exercise is relative. If you are used to a stroll in the park, then a vigorous uphill climb will do. If you already exercise intensely, you need to bump it up – perhaps with the help of a knowledgeable trainer.

Vigorous exercise especially helpful for the over 40

Recent presentations at the annual American Council of Sports Medicine (ACSM) convention shed light on the fact that intense exercise helps you stay healthy as you age. The current ACSM guidelines – a weight resistance training program with a low-to-moderate intensity range of 65 percent to 75 percent (for each training exercise you would use as much weight as you can that that would allow for 10-15 reps), provides an excellent starting point but participants at the convention discussed how new research shows that older adults can train at higher-intensity exercise levels then once believed. Research with older adults in high-intensity exercise programs, specifically heavy resistance and powerlifting exercises, have shown excellent fitness gains and functional strength for many activities of daily living.

The aging process typically causes a decrease in muscle mass at a rate of approximately 5 percent per decade from the age of 40, with a rapid decrease after the age of 65. Researchers often speculate as to whether this is the natural aging process or has it been accelerated because of an increased sedentary lifestyle. A decrease in muscle mass and diminished neuromuscular efficiency causes a reduction in speed, agility, balance, co-ordination and power. The accumulation of these losses greatly affects overall skills, which significantly increases the risk of falls.

And even if you haven’t worked out in the past, it’s never too late to start. Just as a sedentary lifestyle can threaten health, an exercise program with appropriate levels of strength and power training can provide numerous health benefits and stimulate muscle growth even in the later years. Higher-intensity exercises not only do wonders for the muscular system, they stimulate hormone production. Research indicates seniors who performed power-training workouts with more explosive movement such as throwing a medicine ball or kettlebell swings, had an increased production of the hormones testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factors, which all lead to a muscle growth and more youthful appearance.

The Blood Sugar-Exercise Connection

If controlling your blood sugar is one of your motivations for exercising, a resent study from New Zealand confirms the connection. Researchers call it “exercise snacking” and say that a brief burst of intense exercise is more effective than a moderate daily 30-minute workout at reducing glucose concentrations in people who are insulin resistant.

Among physical activity advocates, such bursts of exercise are called high-intensity interval training. Cardio and strength training routines both qualify. This kind of exercise has been shown to be an efficient way to improve blood glucose control in people with Type 2 diabetes and as a way to reduce risk factors for other chronic diseases, according to the researchers.

How To Do It

There are lots of ways to do high intensity interval training. If you work out on a treadmill or exercise bike – go all out and then slow down and do this for your entire workout. If you are strength training, lift the maximum amount of weight for a couple of minutes, and then cool off and do something in between – squats, lunges, sit-ups – before you lift again. And for a total high intensity workout in the privacy of your own home, try this: 50 sits up, 40 squats, 30 push ups, 30 lunges, 10 triceps dips. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are ready for this, make sure to check with your doctor first

Mary Jane Horton has been a writer/editor for 30 years. She has written for such magazines as Runner’s World, Fodor’s Guides, Time, Ms., Shape, Prevention, Living Fit, Woman’s Day special interest publications, to name a few, and worked as an editor for Fit Pregnancy magazine. Most recently she was editor in chief of Plum magazine, a health and lifestyle magazine for women over 35. You can find her at


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