In a new study, researchers found that five years of high-intensity interval training increased quality of life, improved fitness, and might very well have extended the lives of participants.
The research was conducted by a team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
Researchers, healthcare professionals, and individuals around the world have been waiting for answers to the question: Can exercise really give older people a longer and healthier life?
In the study, all participants were divided into three different training groups when the study started in 2012.
One group was assigned to do high-intensity training intervals according to the 4×4 method twice a week, while group two was instructed to train at a steady, moderate-intensity for 50 minutes two days a week.
The participants could choose whether they wanted to train on their own or participate in group training with instructors.
The third group—the control group—was advised to exercise according to the Norwegian health authorities’ recommendations.
This group was not offered organized training but was called in for regular health checks and fitness assessments.
The team found in the interval training group, 3% of the participants had died after five years. The percentage was 6% in the moderate group.
The difference is not statistically significant, but the trend is so clear that the researchers believe the results give good reason to recommend high-intensity training for the elderly.
Among the participants in the control group, 4.5% had died after five years.
One in five people in this group trained regularly at high intensity and ended up, on average, doing more high-intensity training than the participants in the moderate group.
This could also explain why they ended up in between the other two groups in terms of survival.
As to the question of whether this study offers definitive proof that exercise prolongs life, the team answers with a clear and unequivocal yes, because they believe that this is true.
But training is probably not the only reason.
The people who signed up to participate in the study probably had high training motivation, to begin with. They also started with a relatively high level of activity, and most of them considered themselves to be in good health.
The team points out that the participants in all three groups managed to maintain their fitness levels throughout the five-year period.
A previous study that people who exercise regularly at high intensity had a drop in the fitness of 5% over ten years.
By comparison, fitness levels dropped by 9% for individuals who exercised regularly but not at high intensity.
Those who were physically inactive lost as much as 16% of their physical conditioning for over ten years.
The decline in fitness was greater among the elderly than in younger people.
Those who maintained their conditioning best also had the healthiest states when it came to risk factors for lifestyle diseases and poor health.
The team says the high-intensity training increased participants’ conditioning the most after the first, third, and fifth years.
Better fitness is closely linked to a lower risk of premature death, so this improvement may explain why the high-intensity group apparently had the best survival rate.
One author of the study is Dorthe Stensvold.
The study is published in the BMJ.
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