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Updated 02 August 2017

Scientists call this the 'fountain of youth'

A study has found that high intensity interval training seems to give older cells a boost, even reversing some of the effects of ageing.

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Throughout the ages mankind has searched in vain for the "fountain of youth", a way to reverse the ravages of the ageing process. Although this is not possible, there are ways to age more gracefully and retain one's health well into one's senior years.

High-intensity exercise may help older adults reverse certain aspects of the cellular ageing process, a new study suggests.

It's no secret that regular exercise is healthy for young and old alike. But researchers said the new findings point to particular benefits from high-intensity interval training for older adults.

Changes at the cellular level

That's the type of workout that combines brief bursts of vigorous exercise with periods of moderate activity: A person might, for example, go all-out on a stationary bike for a few minutes, ease up for the next few, and then start again.

A recent Health24 article highlights the benefits of high-intensity interval training and calls it a hot new fitness trend. Experts say this form of exercise has taken the fitness world “by storm” and will continue to increase in popularity.

Sean Bartram, author of the book "High Intensity Interval Training for Women", said to find the right level of intensity outside one's comfort zone people should think about what it is like being chased by a rabid dog.

"It's just below that," he said. "To gain maximum benefits you have to push your body to a place that's almost uncomfortable."

In the study, older adults who performed high-intensity interval training showed greater changes at the cellular level, compared to those who worked out more moderately.

Specifically, interval training gave a bigger boost to mitochondrial function in the muscle. Mitochondria are the "powerhouses" within body cells that break down nutrients to be used for energy.

The training also revved up activity in more genes related to mitochondrial function and muscle growth.

Absolute benefits

What does it all mean?

The study findings suggest that interval training can turn back the clock in ways that moderate aerobic exercise and strength training do not, according to lead researcher Dr K. Sreekumaran Nair.

But, he stressed, the findings do not mean older adults should jump into a vigorous exercise regimen.

The study, published in Cell Metabolism, involved 72 younger and older adults who were sedentary.

Nair's team randomly assigned each of them to one of three supervised exercise groups.

All showed positive changes

  • One group did high-intensity interval training three days a week: They pedalled on an exercise bike at their maximum speed for four minutes, before easing up for three minutes; they repeated that process four times. They also worked out more moderately – walking on a treadmill – twice a week.
  • A second group performed moderate aerobic exercise – using an exercise bike at a less-intense pace – five days a week, for 30 minutes. They also did some light strength-training four days a week.
  • The third group performed strengthening exercises only, two days a week.

After 12 weeks, all of the groups were showing positive changes – younger and older exercisers alike, the researchers found.

Interval training beats moderate aerobic exercise

Dr Chip Lavie is medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. He said this is a "great" study that demonstrates the benefits of different forms of exercise.

According to Lavie, it adds to other evidence that high-intensity interval training is "probably the best form of exercise".

Many studies, he said, have found that interval training beats moderate aerobic exercise when it comes to improving fitness and the heart's structure and function.

"It would be ideal to get more people to do high-intensity interval training," Lavie said, "and it's possible for more-motivated individuals."

Read more:

Sunscreen slows skin ageing

Stressful situations accelerate ageing

Celebrity ageing

 
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