Brief, Intense Training Builds Cardio Benefits

Too frazzled, too out of shape, too old to exercise?

Incidental physical activity takes no extra time but builds fitness

Do you feel that you’re too busy to Keep Moving? Do you feel that you’re too sedentary or old to Keep Moving? If so, you’ve got lots of company. In spite of overwhelming evidence that Keep Moving (aka physical activity or exercise), only a quarter of Americans get the recommended minimum amount of weekly physical activity. That's 150 minutes a week at a moderate-intensity. What’s a busy or inactive or older person to do?

Happily, recent research points to practical, time-efficient, low- or no-cost ways to Keep Moving. The new ways are variants of time-tested interval training. They exploit the fact that tiny amounts of high-intensity physical activity can yield as much or more cardio benefit as much longer periods of ordinary physical activity. Here’s another key point: For those of us who are physically inactive, “high-intensity” may not be as daunting as we might imagine.

Incidental physical activity refers to parts of daily living that involve moving around but aren’t done to recreate or improve health. Thus, altering these activities slightly wouldn’t involve any more time. Such incidental activities, such as walking up the stairs at work or running an errand on a bicycle, can amount to high-intensity movement. That's especially true for people who are older and/or physically inactive.  These folks can get a cardio boost from small amounts Keep Moving.

Canadian researchers investigated the benefit of brief but intense stair climbing as a practical way to improve cardio fitness. Thirty-one sedentary, normal-weight young women performed sprint interval training three days per week for six weeks. The daily training involved three 20-second “all-out” efforts of either continuously ascending stairs or cycling with long rest periods between the “all out” efforts. Peak oxygen uptake, a measure of cardio fitness, increased by 12 percent. Brief, intense stair climbing can be a practical, time-efficient strategy to improve cardio fitness, even for previously untrained women.

Other research showed that regular periods of short amounts of high-intensity physical activity can provide cardio benefits equal to those resulting from much longer periods of exercise. For example: 3-5 periods (such as walking briskly to the bus, or walking quickly up and down the stairs at work, or playing with the kids) each lasting 2-3 minutes over the course of each day. The key is short activity periods that elevate heart rate to about 80 percent of maximum heart rate. You calculate the maximum number of  beats per minute as 220 minus your age in years. The additional time commitment would be virtually zero. Thus, you can improve your cardiovascular health with short bouts of high-intensity movement while saying to yourself, “It’s the biggest bang for the buck!”

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