More Frequent, Intense Exercise Is Better

I remember when I was young I had a swim meet on the weekend. But the meet wasn’t due to start until the afternoon. And so I asked my dad if he wanted to go play tennis. And he said no and that I should probably rest before my meet rather than go and play tennis.

And this was probably a good idea. I was able to rest up and focus on my races to come.

But I find it interesting how the frequency and intensity of our exercise changes as we grow up from childhood, through adolescence, into our teens and eventually as adults.

When we were younger we thought nothing of having swim practice in the morning, playing football at recess and lunch, followed by swim practice again in the evening. And if there was time we’d fit in some more time to play with our neighbourhood friends.

Now if most of us do one activity in a day we’re spent for that day and possibly for days after. One client and friend, LM, enjoys going cat and heli skiing. He says that he tends to have to ‘fake sore’ with the rest of the group on the trip regarding his fatigue and DOMS (i.e. muscle soreness). Everyone else is suffering after an intense day of carving powder and so he ‘fakes sore’ in order to fit in.

But how much exercise is enough? And hard should we push ourselves?

A new study out of Oxford tells us that more is better when it comes to exercise. And the benefits were greater with more intense exercise.

Here’s what they did.

Researchers observed the fitness habits of over 90,000 adults, both male and female. And they wanted to see the impact of exercise intensity and frequency on cardiovascular (CV) health. CV disease is the number one cause of death and so it makes sense to see the impact exercise has on it.

Previous studies of this type would involve participants self-reporting their exercise. This can sometimes be flawed as we may over-estimate the duration and intensity of training. To overcome this researchers had the participants wear an accelerometer on their wrist.

What they found is that those getting the most frequent and intense exercise had the greatest reduction in CV risk. Those in the top 25% doing vigorous exercise saw their risk for CV disease lowered by 54-63%. On a scale of 1-10, vigorous exercise would fall at about a 6 or 7 out of 10. Or if you use a heart rate monitor this might be about 70-85% of your maximal heart rate.

And if the exercise wasn’t vigourous there were still great benefits to be had. Exercise at a moderate intensity showed reductions in CV risk factors by 48-57%. So even this group is cutting their CV risk in half. Moderate exercise on a perceived effort scale would be about a 3 out of 10 or 50-70% of your maximal heart rate.

The benefits seen applied to both men and women however the results for women doing vigourous exercise were particularly strong.

As well, those more likely to exercise were also:

  • less likely to smoke
  • more likely to maintain a healthy weight
  • more likely to consume a moderate amount of alcohol

The take home message is that it’s OK to exercise ever day. Think back to when you were a kid or watch a new puppy. Sure they may sleep a lot when first born but after a while they play a lot. And they go all out.

Our risk for CV disease only increases as we age yet we get less of what protects us from this disease. If you are not sure how to get started, or if your exercise is intense enough or would like some help to increase the frequency and intensity of your exercise leave a comment below or stop in to Okanagan Peak Performance Inc.

Ramakrishnan, R., Doherty, A., Smith-Byrne, K., Rahimi, K., Bennett, D., Woodward, M., … & Dwyer, T. (2021). Accelerometer measured physical activity and the incidence of cardiovascular disease: Evidence from the UK Biobank cohort study. PLoS medicine18(1), e1003487.



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