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Exercise Harder to Live Longer?

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Lately, lots of studies have focused on short-duration, high-intensity exercise. A recent contribution claims that the training type may help you live longer.

Researchers from Copenhagen, Denmark, wanted to examine the association of exercise intensity and/or duration with mortality rates. To do this they analyzed 18 years of self-reported data from 5,106 male and female cyclists, aged 21–90, who had taken part in the 18-year Copenhagen City Heart Study.

The participants reported on whether their daily physical activity lasted less than a half hour, a half hour to an hour or more than an hour. The cyclists also stated whether they thought the intensity of their cycling in a given period was slow, average or fast.

During the 18-year study, 708 of the men and 464 of the women died, with 108 of the men and 38 of the women dying from cardiovascular disease. The researchers discovered that the individuals who reported participating in shorter-duration, higher-intensity exercise tended to live longer than the lower-intensity, longer-duration cyclists.

“Men with fast intensity cycling survived 5.3 years longer, and men with average intensity 2.9 years longer than men with slow cycling intensity,” the authors reported. “For women the figures were 3.9 and 2.2 years longer, respectively.”

Despite the many positive benefits associated with this type of exercise, some experts are concerned that high-intensity training can be unsafe and dangerous. Jade Teta, ND, CSCS, co-creator of Metabolic Effect, disagrees. “The idea that this is risky is built on the old boot camp mentality of ‘Don’t stop until you drop,’” Teta says.

Here are a few tips for safely implementing high-intensity training into your program:

  • Use a sliding scale. Make sure each exercise has two or three easier versions that you can move to if needed.
  • Keep it short. There is an inverse relationship between duration and intensity; the harder you work, the shorter the time period should be. Pacing and cheating can lead to injuries.
  • Use antagonistic supersets. Pair a push with a pull, or pair lower-body movements with upper-body ones. The body develops balance, and you enable recovery of one muscle group while the other group is working.

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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