Working out and getting fit do not always mean trudging on the treadmill or lifting weights mechanically for countless minutes, especially for older adults. A recent Scottish study from Abertay University that was discussed in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society‘s “Letters to the Editor” section showed that bursts of high-intensity workouts are not just for younger people. The article highlighted that high-intensity workouts can improve cardiovascular health and fitness of older adults in as little as six seconds.
The study consisted of 12 older adults who were equally divided into a high-intensity training group (HIT) and control group which did no fitness training. The HIT group performed six-second bouts of high-intensity cycling sprints on a stationary bike twice a week for six weeks. The subjects rested for about a minute between bouts of exercise, and each person performed six bouts. As the subjects progress, the number of sprints was increased up to 10 bouts toward the end of the study. The HIT group reduced their blood pressure by nine percent while increasing their VO2 max by eight percent and “physical functioning” by 14 percent. The authors also noted that their “positive engagement, revitalization, and comparative health were not significantly increased by 16, 32, and 18 percent, respectively.”
Even though the study’s sample population was tiny, the high-intensity “six-second workout” may offer some alternatives to exercise for those who are struggling to find time to improve their physical fitness. A quick run up and down a flight of stairs or a dash between six to ten seconds across an open park can be some simple examples that older adults can create to pump up their heart and stimulate their brain. The Scottish study does not seem to be a peer-review study and may not be rigorously controlled, analyzed, or controlled.
Current scientific evidence shows that high-intensity exercise, sometimes called interval training, can provide similar benefits to steady-pace, lower-intensity exercise, such as jogging or walking. A slightly larger study among over 240 adults that was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that those who in the high-intensity training group had significant higher leg muscle strength and peak aerobic capacity in cycling and walking and lower systolic blood pressure than those who were in a moderate-intensity exercise and control group.
However, not all older adults may be able to perform high-intensity training nor is it appropriate for everyone. Some may be at risk for heart disease, pulmonary problems, and musculoskeletal disorders that may prevent them from doing such workouts. A recent huge, 15-year study that was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that leisure running can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease with as little as five to 10 minutes a day at less than six miles per hour. For some adults, this may be more practical and less intimidating than doing several bouts of short sprints or other forms of high-intensity exercise.
There is no perfect or ideal type of exercise or fitness program for all older adults, even if the six-second workout can improve health and independence. Exercise professionals who work with this population must individualize each person’s workout to meet their needs and preferences. As long as they are moving, some exercise may be better than sitting all day.
By Nick Ng