A recent study, which was a well-done randomized trial, showed the following: (quoted from this article) Regular brisk walks can slow down the shrinking of the brain and the faltering mental skills that old age often brings, scientists say. Studies on men and women aged 60 to 80 found that taking a short walk three times a week increased the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year. The prefrontal cortex and hippocampus increased in size by only 2% or 3%, but that was enough to offset the steady shrinkage doctors expected to see over the same period. “It may sound like a modest amount but that’s actually like reversing the age clock by about one to two years,” said Professor Kirk Erickson, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, while the benefits of exercise are well known, a couple of recent studies show that even for those who have been sedentary until middle age, an increase in physical activity starting later in life improves long term health, and allows you to live longer. Here is a summary in the New York Times.
Now if you, like most of this blog’s heart health-educated readers, already exercise regularly, here’s a challenge which can amplify the benefit: add interval training. In other words, rather than settling for a steady walk, light jog, or session on the exercise machine, use intervals to push the training benefit further, by training your muscles, heart, and lungs to work more efficiently (an added benefit – burn more calories and improve your aerobic fitness). Some ways to add interval training:
– for walkers, replace a steady, moderate-intensity walk with alternating 3 or 4 minute “power walks” (at a hard pace which makes it difficult to talk) with 1 or 2 minutes of a slow, recovery pace.
– on a treadmill or exercise machine, try a similar ratio of “higher intensity” and recovery periods.
– for joggers, my favorite interval routines are 4 minutes hard running with 1 minute of walking recovery (great for a treadmill, repeated 6 or 8 or for max impact, 12 times), or a mile at hard pace followed by recovery, repeated 3 times. Yesterday, I did 3 cycles of 1 mile hard running and a 10-exercise weight circuit – a great workout in 60 minutes.
Regardless of the specific type of intervals, this type of workout can add variety, maximize your aerobic training, and increase calorie burn and metabolism – all great benefits!