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So another year has gone by and leaves us to reflect on 2013 fitness tips. This past year science and research fine-tuned and expanded what we know about physical activity and how it effects our brains, heart, joints and even our DNA before we have been born. We learned that our lifespans can be greatly increased with exercise, particularly if we go reasonably hard and fast.
This year we were both encouraged – fitness can happen in 7 minutes a day – and depressed (especially if we thought that barefoot running could improve our form and prevent injury). It was at times validating (why cool downs are not really necessary), enlightening (why gentle exercise does not quash our appetite’s as much as we thought), boring (boredom with food can be a great appetite suppressant) and down right strange (chewing gum helps focus the brain).
However the lesson they emerged gain and again was they intensity in exercise matters. The 7 minute workout as popularised by the New York Times was one of the most popular topics for the whole year, especially for those wanting to get their exercise over and done with quickly. The time commitment may seem small, but for the session to work the effort must be vigorous. To gain all the health benefits from this HIIT (high intensity interval training) you need to work at 90% of maximum heart rate and be very, very breathless and sweaty. But on top of getting fitter and healthier, HIIT also suppresses the appetite more than traditional aerobic based exercise.
The research on HIIT also undermined the common excuse not to get any exercise – “I don’t have the time”. Again, the emphasis must be on intensity and not the short duration.
Intensity winning over duration was also proved in a small study where out of shape volunteers ran on a treadmill at high speed for just 4 minutes three times a week. They increased their VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) by about 10% (in ten weeks) while improving blood sugar control and blood pressure.
We also learned in 2013 how pervasive the effects of exercise are. In another experiment, rodents that ran on wheels for several weeks responded far better to stressful situations than their non-exercising counterparts.
But one of the most interesting studies of 2013 showed how exercise can effect the very fabric of our being. In experiments, scientists found that exercise reshapes the genes within human cells. By changing how atoms attach to parts of our DNA the behaviour of the gene changes. Researchers found that in some cases, six months of moderate exercise remodelled genes related to the risk for diabetes and heart disease. Foe those of us wanting a slightly faster result, another study found that just a single session of cycling altered the genes in the muscle cells of the volunteers.
These studies are an important and inspirational remainder of the robust effect exercise can have on the human body, even at the level of our DNA.
And my favourite piece of fitness news in 2013? The blerch, via Frances Lindsay; thanks girl, keep running!Of course, any exercise can be substituted for running.