Exercise is good for your health, but did you know that it can even reverse damage to your cells? Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota recently conducted a study that confirmed that age-related decline in the cellular health of muscles can be corrected with exercise — and the more intense the better.
The study authors collected a group of 72 sedentary men and women who were in overall good health. The participants made up two age groups: 30 and below and older than 64. Initial baseline measures of aerobic fitness, blood-sugar levels, gene activity, and mitochondrial health were recorded for each person. The volunteers were then randomly assigned to a particular exercise routine, which they performed several times a week:
- Vigorous weight training
- High-intensity interval training
- Combined low-intensity cardio and weightlifting
- No exercise at all
After a 12-week period, each participant had his or her labs repeated. After 12 weeks of high-intensity aerobic intervals (HIIT), resistant (RT) and combined exercise training, the study saw enhanced insulin sensitivity and lean mass in all active participants. But those that performed the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) benefited the most, showing an improvement in the age-related decline in their muscle mitochondria.
This data demonstrates the benefits of higher intensity interval workouts as a means of keeping muscles strong and healthy. And that’s not all of the benefits of doing HIIT. The American Physiological Society (APS) found that resistance-based interval training can improve endothelial function, leading to an increase in nitric oxide production, better blood vessel dilation, and improved blood flow. Others advantages to engaging in higher intensity workouts include a healthier heart, reduced blood pressure, an energy boost, and an increased metabolism.
What is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training involves using 100% effort in a series of quick, intense bursts of exercise, typically 20 to 30 seconds long. This is followed by short recovery periods while your body refuels. The idea behind the workout is to get your heart rate up and start burning fat more quickly compared to traditional lower-intensity but sustained workouts, like going for a run. “The rules of HIIT are pretty simple: work really hard, rest, then work really hard again,” says fitness expert and celebrity trainer Rob Sulaver.
30-Minute HITT Plan
Interested in reaping the benefits of HITT for yourself? Try your hand at this HITT Program created by celebrity trainer Tina Hill, co-owner of Happy Hour Gym in Beverly Hills, California. Tina explains that her program is completely modifiable, especially in the event of an injury or physical limitation. “Make sure to go at your own pace,” she notes. “Sprint speeds, for instance, are different for everyone. The general idea is just to push yourself to the best of your ability.”
- Warm up: Walk a block, jog a block 3 times.
- Do 15 squats, followed by 10 jump squats.
- 15 push-ups
- 15 lunges per leg, alternating
Repeat # 2-4 three times
- 5 wind sprints (1/2 block, walk back, then repeat 5 times)
- 15 bench dips
- 10 burpees
- 20 bicycles
Repeat #6-8 three times:
- 5 wind sprints
- Finish your workout with a stretch
How to do these exercises
Squats: Sit like you are sitting down in a chair, then stand up again, making sure you engage your bum.
Lunges: Take a big step forward, bending both knees to 90 degrees, then returning feet to starting position. Alternate with the other leg. Try not to let your knee extend past your toes on the front leg.
Wind sprints: For ½ a block, run as fast as you can, then turn and walk back to where you started.
Bench dips: Sit on a bench with your bum close to the edge, one hand on each side of your hips, with fingers coming over the front of the seat. Slide your bum off the front of the bench. Bend your arms behind you, parallel to each other. Lower yourself halfway to the ground, then push up until your arms are straight.
Burpees: Start in standing position. Crouch to the ground, placing hands on the ground. Jump back into push up position, then jump back to crouch position, and stand up. To make it more difficult, add a jump every time you stand back up.
Bicycles: Lying on your back with your hands by your ears, elbow dropped open, lift the back of your shoulders off the floor. Also lift your legs off the floor, pulling left knee in toward your chest, while the right leg is extended. Now alternate right elbow to left knee and left elbow to right knee. Keep your lower and mid back pressed into the floor.
The Mayo Clinic study also touted the benefits of weight lifting for toning your body maintaining muscles. Research shows, however, that less than one-quarter of adults over 45 are meeting the muscle-strengthening recommendations as set by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, older adults should opt for at least two days of strength training activities per week that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
Per the National Institute of Health, here are some exercises that middle-aged and senior Americans can do to keep their muscles strong.
Upper Body Exercises
- wrist curls
- arm curls
- side arm raises
- elbow extensions
- chair dips
- seated rows with resistance band
Lower Body Exercises
- back leg raises
- knee curls
- leg straightening exercises
- toe stands
If you are new to weightlifting, start slow. Opt for lighter weights and gradually build up your resistance levels. When lifting weights, take 3 seconds to lift or push the weight into place, pause for a second, and then spend 3 seconds lowering the weight to its starting position. Make sure to breathe in as you lift or push a weight and exhale as you relax. Aim for 10 to 15 repetitions and two sets of each move.