Regular exercise boasts an impressive list of benefits. It keeps your heart and brain healthy, boosts your mood and strengthens your muscles and bones. But new evidence suggests that certain types of exercise can also help keep you younger.
The impact of ageing on the body
Besides a bit of grey hair and the odd wrinkle, there are several changes that happen inside the body as you get older. Two of these changes are:
- Telomeres get shorter
Telo – whats? Telomeres are the protein endcaps of your chromosomes (DNA). They’re like your biological clock and they’re very closely correlated with age. That’s because each time a cell replicates, you lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older you get, the shorter your telomeres.
- Mitochondrial activity slows
Mitochondria are the “batteries” of your cells. It is their job to generate energy and to make your cells more efficient in using this energy. As you get older, these mitochondria slow down, essentially slowing you down too!
You’re only as old as you feel!
New evidence suggests that the more physically active you are, the LESS biological ageing takes place within your body. In other words, you may have celebrated 40 birthdays, but your body is only blowing out 30 candles! There is once catch: you must be willing to sweat! A series of new studies have found that high intensity exercise rejuvenates ageing cells. And you thought botox was the only option?
These studies found that people who had very high physical activity levels had telomeres that were biologically 9 years younger than those who were sedentary (read: couch potatoes), and 7 years younger than those who were only moderately active. When it came to mitochondrial activity, high intensity exercise boosted the ability of the mitochondria to generate energy by up to 69%!
What is high intensity training?
Exercise intensity refers to how hard your body is working during physical activity and is typically described as low, moderate, or vigorous. Your body has an in-built system to measure your intensity – your heart. Your heart rate will increase in proportion to the intensity of your exercise.
High intensity interval training (#HIIT) workouts involve short intervals of maximum intensity followed by recovery periods of low intensity. Provided you stick with the pattern of alternating high intensity exercise with recovery, the actual type of exercise used can be whatever gets you moving. For example, cycling at the gym, sprinting outside, climbing stairs, or even using your own body weight at home through burpees and jump squats.
While it’s true that ANY exercise is good exercise, compared to low/moderate intensity exercise, high intensity exercise has additional benefits to both health and fitness. High intensity training:
- Is more effective at improving glucose control and insulin sensitivity
- Is more effective at enhancing the body’s ability to take up and use oxygen
- Is fast and efficient, offering similar physiological benefits to much longer, lower intensity workouts
High intensity exercise guidelines for newbies
The great thing about high intensity exercise is that you can squeeze an entire workout into a fraction of the time. However, for that reason, it is not something you can do while reading a mag or chatting to a friend. It’s hard and intense, and risk of injury for someone just starting out is relatively high. Follow these guidelines to ensure you get the most out of your workout:
- Before you start, chat to a professional to make sure you have your technique right. Sacrificing form for figures is never a healthy strategy!
- Start out slow. Gradually increasing both number of intervals and intensity allows your body to adapt without injury
- Don’t forget rest days. Your body might be feeling young, but it still needs to recover (plus, muscle is rebuilt during recovery)
- Workout with a partner. Keep each other’s form in check and motivation levels high!
- Use the “talk test”. Not sure if you’re pushing yourself? During the intervals, you should be unable to speak in full sentences