Here's a wonderful article recently published in the New York Times that shows how interval training can provide a full range of health benefits...why not incorporate interval training into your weekly fitness routine? You'll see measurable results in only a few weeks!
Making the Transition With a Little Help
SOME gymgoers are tortoises. They prefer to take their sweet time, leisurely pedaling or ambling along on a treadmill. Others are hares, impatiently racing through miles at high intensity. Each offers similar health benefits: lower risk of heart disease, protection against Type 2 diabetes, and weight loss.
But new findings suggest that for at least one workout a week it pays to be both tortoise and hare — alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with easy-does-it recovery.
Weight watchers, prediabetics and those who simply want to increase their fitness all stand to gain.
This alternating fast-slow technique, called interval training, is hardly new. For decades, serious athletes have used it to improve performance.
But new evidence suggests that a workout with steep peaks and valleys can dramatically improve cardiovascular fitness and raise the body’s potential to burn fat.
Best of all, the benefits become evident in a matter of weeks.
“There’s definitely renewed interest in interval training,” said Ed Coyle, the director of the human performance laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that after just two weeks of interval training, six of the eight college-age men and women doubled their endurance, or the amount of time they could ride a bicycle at moderate intensity before exhaustion.
Eight volunteers in a control group, who did not do any interval training, showed no improvement in endurance.
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, had the exercisers sprint for 30 seconds, then either stop or pedal gently for four minutes.
Such a stark improvement in endurance after 15 minutes of intense cycling spread over two weeks was all the more surprising because the volunteers were already reasonably fit. They jogged, biked or did aerobic exercise two to three times a week.
Doing bursts of hard exercise not only improves cardiovascular fitness but also the body’s ability to burn fat, even during low- or moderate-intensity workouts, according to a study published this month, also in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Eight women in their early 20s cycled for 10 sets of four minutes of hard riding, followed by two minutes of rest. Over two weeks, they completed seven interval workouts.
After interval training, the amount of fat burned in an hour of continuous moderate cycling increased by 36 percent, said Jason L. Talanian, the lead author of the study and an exercise scientist at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Cardiovascular fitness — the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen to working muscles — improved by 13 percent.
It didn’t matter how fit the subjects were before. Borderline sedentary subjects and the college athletes had similar increases in fitness and fat burning. “Even when interval training was added on top of other exercise they were doing, they still saw a significant improvement,” Mr. Talanian said.
That said, this was a small study that lacked a control group, so more research would be needed to confirm that interval training was responsible.
Interval training isn’t for everyone. “Pushing your heart rate up very high with intensive interval training can put a strain on the cardiovascular system, provoking a heart attack or stroke in people at risk,” said Walter R. Thompson, professor of exercise science at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
For anyone with heart disease or high blood pressure — or who has joint problems such as arthritis or is older than 60 — experts say to consult a doctor before starting interval training.
Still, anyone in good health might consider doing interval training once or twice a week. Joggers can alternate walking and sprints. Swimmers can complete a couple of fast laps, then four more slowly.
There is no single accepted formula for the ratio between hard work and a moderate pace or resting. In fact, many coaches recommend varying the duration of activity and rest.
But some guidelines apply. The high-intensity phase should be long and strenuous enough that a person is out of breath — typically one to four minutes of exercise at 80 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. Recovery periods should not last long enough for their pulse to return to its resting rate.
Also people should remember to adequately warm up before the first interval. Coaches advise that, ideally, people should not do interval work on consecutive days. More than 24 hours between such taxing sessions will allow the body to recover and help them avoid burnout.
What is so special about interval training? One advantage is that it allows exercisers to spend more time doing high-intensity activity than they could in a single sustained effort. “The rest period in interval training gives the body time to remove some of the waste products of working muscles,” said Barry A. Franklin, the director of the cardiac rehabilitation and exercise laboratories at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.
To go hard, the body must use new muscle fibers. Once these recent recruits are trained, they are available to burn fuel even during easy-does-it workouts. “Any form of exercise that recruits new muscle fibers is going to enhance the body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates and fat,” Dr. Coyle said.
Interval training also stimulates change in mitochondria, where fuel is converted to energy, causing them to burn fat first — even during low- and moderate-intensity workouts, Mr. Talanian said.
Improved fat burning means endurance athletes can go further before tapping into carbohydrate stores. It is also welcome news to anyone trying to lose weight or avoid gaining it.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t active enough to keep muscles healthy. At the sedentary extreme, one result can be what Dr. Coyle calls “metabolic stalling” — carbohydrates in the form of blood glucose and fat particles in the form of triglycerides sit in the blood. That, he suspects, could be a contributing factor to metabolic syndrome, the combination of obesity, insulin resistance, high cholesterol and elevated triglycerides that increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
By recruiting new muscle fibers and increasing the body’s ability to use fuel, interval training could potentially lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.
Interval training does amount to hard work, but the sessions can be short. Best of all, a workout that combines tortoise and hare leaves little time for boredom.
A Defense Intelligence Agency assessment recently addressed the question of whether H5N1 Avian Influenza could be the next pandemic. Highly lethal influenza strains occur approx 3 times per century. Their conclusions, in brief, were that in the near term H5N1 will continue to have outbreaks among poultry and sporadic human cases. While they predict that H5N1 will remain unchanged, the DIA report states that the virus could emerge as a human influenza pandemic through either adaptive mutation (genetic mutations that slowly change the virus) or genetic reassortment (genetic materials from two different strains of influenza A virus mix and create a new influenza strain). The DIA report recommends that strategies be developed to address difficulties in responding, controlling and eradicating outbreaks in lesser developed countries. In addition, they recommend that the issues of stockpiling and manufacturing of medical vaccines be addressed.
In 1976 experts warned that an emerging strain of influenza, known as the "swine flu," had the potential to cause illness on a massive scale that winter. A large public immunization campaign was launched, and a photo was released showing President Ford being immunized by his physician, Dr. William Lukash
In 1983, the Kennedy School of Government did a case study on the government's actions to prevent a potential pandemic in the wake of an outbreak of Swine Flu at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Here is an executive summary of that case study:
Kennedy School of Government
Swine Flu Summary Case
In mid-February 1976, CDC learned that four cases of influenza at Fort Dix, New Jersey were caused by a swine flu-like virus inactive in the human population since 1930.
Swine flu was believed to be the agent of the century’s worst flu pandemic—that of 1918-19, in which 500,000 Americans died.
On February 19, the CDC went public with their information. The New York Times accorded the “U.S. flu alert” front page coverage and noted the potential similarity to the 1918-19 virus. During the following weeks no new swine flue cases were reported at Fort Dix or anywhere else in the U.S….possible that the swine flu virus “sunk” back in to the pig population…or it could have been spreading through the human population without giving off clinical symptoms (“sub clinical spread”) and would erupt in pandemic proportions the next winter. More tests revealed more recruits revealed nine old cases of swine flu bringing the total that became sick to 13. The Army estimated that up to 500 people on base had been infected but resisted the swine virus.
An emergency meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) —a 7 member panel—convened. (Download march_10_1976_acip_meeting_on_swine_flu.doc) They reported unanimously that the possibility of a major outbreak could not be dismissed and that an extraordinary federal response was in order. Their memo stated that the only way a pandemic could be halted was through a program that would immunize most of the population. Took the lead in aggressively advocating a joint public/private program aimed at the entire population.
Producing swine flue vaccine—on a scale ten times greater than usual—meant making sure the manufacturers could get a whole new batch of eggs; that, in turn, would require above the call of duty dedication on the part of the chickens—the committee believed the vaccine would be ready for distribution by mid-summer and administration of the shots by Christmas. Cautionary notes from other doctors said that this was more a “social and not a scientific decision” and that it was necessary to “bring everyone into the act.”
There were extreme skeptics, especially at OMB, that this represented a threat. Others were apprehensive: “The chances seemed to be one in two that swine flu would come...” An unknown probability translated into an even bet. By the end of the week March 15, there was a feeling that the government had been boxed in and that the final decision on the issue would be President Gerald Ford’s to make. It was put on a fast-track for decision. The presidential advisors resigned themselves that “there was no choice.” On March 22 the president was briefed. The program could pose political problems for the president whichever way he decided.
Ford wanted to touch base directly with the scientific community. Another conference was scheduled for March 24th. Presentations were made to the president on the swine flu data, and key CDC members urged the president to mount a mass immunization campaign. The president asked twice whether anyone had any reservations…everyone said it was unanimous. The president said people could speak to him privately if they had reservations. With no criticism form the scientific community, the president ordered the program to commence. The president made an announcement in the White House Press Room that a swine flu epidemic next year was a very real possibility. Asked Congress to appropriate $135 million to inoculate all Americans.
Subsequently discovered that it would be impossible to produce 200 million doses of the vaccine by the fall. Field trials of the vaccine produced bad results. Many adverse reactions. Some did not immunize.
Arguments for stockpiling and watchful waiting were countered by the fear of a “jet spread” of the virus, so the decision was made to store doses of the vaccine in people rather than in warehouses. On October 1st, mass immunizations began in states that had the vaccine. From week to week others joined in. In the first 10 days over a million Americans got shots…all adults. Between October 1 and December 16, more than 40 million Americans received swine flu shots…twice the number ever immunized before for any influenza virus in a single season. Some states inoculated up to 80% of their population, other states not more than 10%.
There were some deaths and complications, however. The press began a body count of those who had died from the vaccination. 54 cases of Guilain-Barre syndrome were reported. The White House suspended the program. With no disease in sight nine months after Ford’s announcement, even a rare side effect could turn the president around.
104 damage claims against the government for a total of $11 million were recorded. No one had died from swine flu except the one Fort Dix soldier who had been diagnosed with the virus and had left his bed to go out for a forced march at night.
Here is a summary-excerpt of a Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Case Study entitled, “Swine Flu: Analogies from the Past.” The main question it asks is, How to prevent pandemics through vaccination?
Key Points from the Paper:
• Spanish Flu 1918: The great pandemic of 1918 countered one tenet after another of what many perceived were basic features shared by all previous pandemics.
o It struck much faster than was normal with an unprecedented mortality rate.
o Apparently healthy people showed the full set of symptoms in an hour.
o Disease raced through communities at a phenomenal rate – worldwide it killed over twice as many people as was killed in combat in WWI (over 20 million lives including 50K in the US alone)
o Pandemic hit in three separate waves in less than a year with the second wave being the most deadly.
o Pigs also suffered from Spanish flu – thus the name swine flu. An Iowa veterinarian, J.S. Koen, noted that pigs and people would both pick up the virus.
• Asian Flu 1957: In 1957-58, another flu epidemic struck with a totally unknown variant. First reports of the flu came from China in late Feb 1957. In two months it spread to every continent.
o Since the 40 yrs since the Spanish flu, understanding of influenza and it prevention had greatly increased. Many in the public health service felt they were ready to deal with a flu outbreak. However, actions taken to combat the disease were viewed as “ too little, too late.”
o US Navy personnel were the first hit followed by children’s summer camps.
o At issue was mass immunization versus focused immunization on special groups based on potential exposure. Another issue was to what extent to raise public alarm and also financial expose drug manufacturers as it relates to vaccine production.
o From the drug makers’ point of view – the developing situation looked more like a gamble with little potential profit and great potential loss. In July, the Surgeon General asked for 60 million doses but the manufacturers said it would take six months to produce. Steps were taken to speed production if required.
o The PHS deferred speeding up production, based on two assumptions:
-That there would not be a replay of the 1918 outbreak
-That it wouldn’t appear before the fall or ideally the winter.
o Contrary to the second assumption, the pandemic exploded earlier than expected in August hitting rural Louisiana affecting 15% of the population mostly young children and adults.
o Given production timeline, the delivery of the flu vaccine was ineffective – the flu had already moved through the nation. Fortunately without the mortality rate of the 1918 variant. – Consequently, the epidemic “won the race” against effective vaccination.
• Hong Kong Flu 1968: Unlike 1957, flu researchers were not prepared for the breakout in 1968.
o By mid-August, 1968, scientists had confirmed that an unexpected pandemic was beginning. Only flu vaccine in the US was tailored on the previous Asian flu.
o On 4 Sept., US Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that high-risk groups be vaccined with the current vaccine while manufacturers rushed to produce a vaccine that would be effective against the Hong Kong flu.
o This request ran again in problems: (1) Manufacturers, having filled the requested Asian Flu orders, had shut down their operations and shifted focus – gearing up would take time. (2) A shortage of embryonated eggs to grow the vaccine existed.
o In addition to inadequate vaccine supplies, the vaccine was poorly utilized; and, a large proportion of the vaccine used went to low and medium risk versus high-risk personnel.
• Polio: While less virulent than flu pandemics its effects left a lasting effect on its victims.
o While Jonas Salk found a cure through vaccination, problems in production resulted in 204 cases in which active polio was transferred to children who took the vaccine. This resulted in the Surgeon General shutting down the vaccination program and revising its safety standards. Eventually, vaccinations of both dead (Salk’s technique) and live (Sabin’s technique) would hit the market.
o Kennedy Administrations $35M Vaccine Assistance Act sought to vaccinate children from polio, whooping cough and tetanus.
The question during pandemics is over how quickly you vaccinate; who do you vaccinate and with what variant. This has both far reaching disease prevention as well as economic issues given the lead time required to produce drugs required.
""It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees."
Where have all the bees gone? For an excellent compilation of reports on the current crisis that is devastating the beekeeping industry, go to TruthOut.org
Note: The quote attributed to Albert Einstein on bees ("If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.") that is quickly making the rounds in the blogosphere, and even in mainstream media, is almost certainly an urban legend....
If you receive Parade Magazine on Sundays, you may have seen this fascinating article on methods to stop the process of aging. I've highlighted parts of the article so you can skim it, but once you do, my bet is that you'll want to read it in full....
New research reveals surprising facts about our changing bodies.
By Dr. Henry S. Lodge
Published: March 18, 2007
From your body’s point of view, “normal” aging isn’t normal at all. It’s a choice you make by the way you live your life. The other choice is to tell your cells to grow—to build a strong, vibrant body and mind.
Let’s have a look at standard American aging. Barbara D. had a baby when she was 34, gave up exercise and gained 50 pounds. Exhausted and depressed, Barbara thought youth, energy and optimism were all in her rearview mirror. Jon M., 55, had fallen even farther down the slippery slope. He was stuck in the corporate world of stress, long hours and doughnuts. At 255 pounds, he had knees that hurt and a back that ached. He developed high blood pressure and eventually diabetes. Life was looking grim.
Jon and Barbara weren’t getting old; they had let their bodies decay. Most aging is just the dry rot we program into our cells by sedentary living, junk food and stress. Yes, we do have to get old, and ultimately we do have to die. But our bodies are designed to age slowly and remarkably well. Most of what we see and fear is decay, and decay is only one choice. Growth is the other.
After two years of misery, Barbara started exercising and is now in the best shape of her life. She just finished a sprint triathlon and, at 37, feels like she is 20. Jon started eating better and exercising too—slowly at first, but he stuck with it. He has since lost 50 pounds, the pain in his knees and back has disappeared, and his diabetes is gone. Today, Jon is 60 and living his life in the body of a healthy 30-year-old. He will die one day, but he is likely to live like a young man until he gets there.
The hard reality of our biology is that we are built to move. Exercise is the master signaling system that tells our cells to grow instead of fade. When we exercise, that process of growth spreads throughout every cell in our bodies, making us functionally younger. Not a little bit younger—a lot younger. True biological aging is a surprisingly slow and graceful process. You can live out your life in a powerful, healthy body if you are willing to put in the work.
Let’s take a step back to see how exercise works at the cellular level. Your body is made up of trillions of cells that live mostly for a few weeks or months, die and are replaced by new cells in an endless cycle. For example, your taste buds live only a few hours, white blood cells live 10 days, and your muscle cells live about three months. Even your bones dissolve and are replaced, over and over again. A few key stem cells in each organ and your brain cells are the only ones that stick around for the duration. All of your other cells are in a constant state of renewal.
You replace about 1% of your cells every day. That means 1% of your body is brand-new today, and you will get another 1% tomorrow. Think of it as getting a whole new body every three months. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’s pretty close. Viewed that way, you are walking around in a body that is brand-new since Christmas—new lungs, new liver, new muscles, new skin. Look down at your legs and realize that you are going to have new ones by the Fourth of July. Whether that body is functionally younger or older is a choice you make by how you live.
You choose whether those new cells come in stronger or weaker. You choose whether they grow or decay each day from then on. Your cells don’t care which choice you make. They just follow the directions you send. Exercise, and your cells get stronger; sit down, and they decay.
This whole system evolved over billions of years out in nature, where all animals face two great cellular challenges: The first is to grow strong, fast and fit in the spring, when food abounds and there are calories to fuel hungry muscles, bones and brains. The second is to decay as fast as possible in the winter, when calories disappear and surviving starvation is the key to life. You would think that food is the controlling signal for this, but it’s not. Motion controls your system.
Though we’ve moved indoors and left that life behind, our cells still think we’re living out on the savannah, struggling to stay alive each day. There are no microwaves or supermarkets in nature. If you want to eat, you have to hunt or forage every single day. That movement is a signal that it’s time to grow. So, when you exercise, your muscles release specific substances that travel throughout your bloodstream, telling your cells to grow. Sedentary muscles, on the other hand, let out a steady trickle of chemicals that whisper to every cell to decay, day after day after day.
Men like Jon, who go from sedentary to fit, cut their risk of dying from a heart attack by 75% over five years. Women cut their risk by 80%—and heart attacks are the largest single killer of women. Both men and women can double their leg strength with three months of exercise, and most of us can double it again in another three months. This is true whether you’re in your 30s or your 90s. It’s not a miracle or a mystery. It’s your biology, and you’re in charge.
The other master signal to our cells—equal and, in some respects, even more important than exercise—is emotion. One of the most fascinating revelations of the last decade is that emotions change our cells through the same molecular pathways as exercise. Anger, stress and loneliness are signals for “starvation” and chronic danger. They “melt” our bodies as surely as sedentary living. Optimism, love and community trigger the process of growth, building our bodies, hearts and minds.
Men who have a heart attack and come home to a family are four times less likely to die of a second heart attack. Women battling heart disease or cancer do better in direct proportion to the number of close friends and relatives they have. Babies in the ICU who are touched more often are more likely to survive. Everywhere you look, you see the role of emotion in our biology. Like exercise, it’s a choice.
It’s hard to exercise every day. And with our busy lives, it’s even harder to find the time and energy to maintain relationships and build communities. But it’s worth it when you consider the alternative. Go for a walk or a run, and think about it. Deep in our cells, down at the level of molecular genetics, we are wired to exercise and to care. We’re beginning to wake up to that as a nation, but you might not want to wait. You might want to join Barbara, Jon and millions of others and change your life. Start today. Your cells are listening.
Dr. Henry S. Lodge is on the faculty of Columbia Medical School and is co-author of “Younger Next Year” (Workman).
Dr. Sherwin Nuland, professor of surgery at Yale Medical School, and author of the new book, The Art of Aging argues that the quality of our last decades remains fully within our control. Aging, he says, is an art as well as a science...and even with the prospect of getting older, there's plenty of room for optimism and hope....
Here is an excerpt:
The Art of Aging
by Sherwin B. Nuland
So gradual a progression is the onset of our aging that we one day find it to be fully upon us. In its own unhurried way, age soundlessly and with persistence treads ever closer behind us on slippered feet, catches up, and finally blends itself into us—all while we are still denying its nearness. It enters at last into the depths of one's being, not only to occupy them but to become their very essence. In time, we not only acknowledge aging's presence within us, but come to know it as well as we knew—and still covet—the exuberant youth that once dwelt there. And then, finally, we try to reconcile ourselves to the inescapable certainty that we are now included among the elderly. Realizing how much of our dreams we must concede to that unalterable truth, we should not only watch our horizons come closer but allow them to do precisely that.
If we are wise, we draw them in until their limits can be seen; we confine them to the possible. And so, the coming closer can be good, if by means of that closeness—that limiting of expectations—we begin to see those vistas more clearly, more realistically, and as more finite than ever before. For aging can be the gift that establishes the boundaries of our lives, which previously knew far fewer confines and brooked far fewer restrictions. Everything within those boundaries becomes thus more precious than it was before: love, learning, family, work, health, and even the lessened time itself. We cherish them more, as the urgency increases to use them well.
Many are the uses of the newly recognized limits. Among their advantages is that our welcoming acceptance of them adds to the value, adds to our appreciation, adds to our ability to savor—adds to every pleasure that falls within them. The good is easier now to see; it is closer to the touch and the taking, if we are only willing to look truthfully at it there and gather it up from amid the cares that may surround it. There is much to savor during this time, magnified and given more meaning and intensity by the very finitude within which it is granted to us.
Aging has the power to concentrate not only our minds but our energies, too, because it tells us that all is no longer possible, and the richness must be more fully extracted from the lessened but nevertheless still-abundant store that remains. From here on, we must play only to our strengths. Some of the more meaningful of those strengths may be not at all less than they once were. The later decades of a life become the time for our capabilities to find an unscattered focus, and in this way increase the force of their concentrated worth. Even as age licks our joints and lessens our acuities, it brings with it the promise that there can in fact be something more, something good, if we are but willing to reach out and take hold of it. It is in the willingness and the will that the secret lies, not the secret to lengthening a life but to rewarding it for having been well used. For aging is an art. The years between its first intimations and the time of the ultimate letting go of all earthly things can—if the readiness and resolve are there—be the real harvest of our lives.
It is the purpose of this book to tell of human aging and its rewards—and also of its discontents. And the book has as its purpose as well to tell of how best to prepare for the changes that inevitably demand accommodation, demand a shift in focus, and demand a realistic assessment of goals and directions, which may be new or may be a rearrangement of the trajectory of a lifetime. We do this at every stage of life without noticing the new pattern to which we are becoming attuned, whether it be in adolescence, the twenties, or middle age. Though the changes may be more obvious as we approach our sixties and seventies, they are, in fact, only a continuation of everything that has come before. For becoming what is known as elderly is simply entering another developmental phase of life. Like all others, it has its bodily changes, its deep concerns, and its good reasons for hope and optimism.
Excerpted from The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being by Sherwin B. Nuland. Copyright (c) 2007.