While many of us wonder just how much exercise we really need in order to gain health and fitness, a group of scientists in Canada are turning that issue on its head and asking, how little exercise do we need?
The emerging and engaging answer appears to be, a lot less than most of us think — provided we’re willing to work a bit.
In proof of that idea, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recently gathered several groups of volunteers. One consisted of sedentary but generally healthy middle-aged men and women. Another was composed of middle-aged and older patients who’d been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
The researchers tested each volunteer’s maximum heart rate and peak power output on a stationary bicycle. In both groups, the peaks were not, frankly, very high; all of the volunteers were out of shape and, in the case of the cardiac patients, unwell. But they gamely agreed to undertake a newly devised program of cycling intervals.
Most of us have heard of intervals, or repeated, short, sharp bursts of strenuous activity, interspersed with rest periods. Almost all competitive athletes strategically employ a session or two of interval training every week to improve their speed and endurance.