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Health Benefits Determined by How Intensely You Exercise

by: Dr. Gabe Mirkin, M.D.

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Three recent studies show that vigorous exercise is far more effective than just exercising in preventing disease and prolonging life. The first study measured how fast a person can cycle; the second, how fast the heart rate recovers after you stop exercising; and the third, the maximal amount of oxygen that a person can take in and use. These are the three most dependable measures of how fit a person is. Fitness is determined more by how INTENSELY you exercise than by how LONG you exercise.

HOW FAST YOU CAN CYCLE: The first study from Denmark followed 5106 cyclists for 18 years and showed that men who cycled very fast survived 5.3 years longer, and men who cycled moderately fast lived 2.9 years longer than men who cycled slowly. For women the figures were 3.9 and 2.2 years longer (European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, February 2012;19(1):73-80). The authors state that "the relative intensity, and not the duration of cycling, is of more importance in relation to all-cause and coronary heart disease mortality".

HEART RATE RECOVERY TEST: A slow heart rate recovery after an exercise test is associated with an increased risk of death (Journal of Internal Medicine, December 2011;270(6):589-96). 1,100 healthy men, aged 42-61, exercised as hard as they could on a stationary bicycle to get their maximal heart rate, the fastest that their hearts could beat. Then they had their heart rates recorded exactly two minutes after they stopped exercising. The difference between maximal heart rate and the rate two minutes after stopping is called the recovery heart rate.

The men were followed for an average of 18 years. Those who had the greatest slowing of their heart rates were the least likely to have died during the follow-up period.

An extremely dependable way to see how fit you are is to check how much your heart rate slows down two minutes after you stop exercising as hard as you can. The greater the slowing of your heart rate, the fitter you are. This study shows that the fitter you are, the less likely you are to die.

THE MAXIMAL AMOUNT OF OXYGEN THAT YOUR BODY CAN USE: 8,565 apparently healthy men were tested to measure the maximal amount of oxygen that they could use over a given period (VO2Max). Those with the highest ability to take in and use oxygen had the least high blood pressure, high HBA1C (a test for diabetes), high fasting blood sugar levels, obesity, coronary calcium scoring, abnormal treadmill exercise test, and calculated 10-year risk for heart attacks (American Journal of Cardiology, March 2012;109(6):839-843).

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