A huge percentage of U.S.adults currently meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome — some medical professionals put the number as high as 34%. What is metabolic syndrome, exactly? The condition refers to a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
To help beat this epidemic and lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes, researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center had this health advice: while these cardiometabolic risk factors can be treated with medication, lifestyle modification is strongly recommended as a first-line approach.
They therefore decided to find out which physical intervention was likely to have the most beneficial impact on reducing metabolic risk factors.
Several recent studies have suggested that, compared with continuous moderate exercise, high-intensity interval training could result in a superior or equal improvement in fitness and cardiovascular health. high-intensity interval training involves brief periods of high-intensity exercise interposed with recovery periods at a lower intensity.
The theory goes that the spurts of vigorous activity associated with interval training promote greater adaptations in your body via increased cellular stress. If that sounds like a negative thing, consider the effect of the recovery period. Recovery intervals allow even untrained individuals to work harder than would otherwise be possible at steady-state intensity.
To illustrate this, the Oklahoma research team examined the impact of high-intensity interval training on cardiometabolic risk factors, measures of obesity, and cardiovascular fitness. They reviewed studies that included both healthy and clinical populations with cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
The effects of high-intensity interval training versus continuous moderate exercise on health outcomes were compared in 14 of 24 studies featuring high-intensity interval training. Exercise programs ranged from two weeks to six months. All 17 studies that measured aerobic fitness and all seven studies that measured insulin sensitivity showed significant improvement in response to
high-intensity interval training. The research team also discovered the following:
— A minimum duration of 12 weeks was necessary to demonstrate improvement in fasting glucose in four of seven studies.
— A minimum duration of eight weeks of high-intensity interval training was necessary to demonstrate improvement in HDL cholesterol in three of 10 studies.
— No studies reported that high-intensity interval training resulted in improvement of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or triglycerides.
— At least 12 weeks of high-intensity interval training was required for a reduction in blood pressure to emerge in five studies of participants not already being treated for hypertension.
— A minimum duration of 12 weeks was necessary to see consistent improvement in the six studies that examined measures of obesity in overweight/obese individuals.
— In the 13 studies, improvement in aerobic fitness in response to high-intensity interval training was equal to (five studies), or greater than (eight studies) in response to continuous moderate exercise.
Additionally, the researchers found that high-intensity interval training has been shown to be safe and effective in patients with a range of cardiac and metabolic dysfunction. It might be time to investigate this type of training if you’ve never tried it. It could be the best way yet to protect against heart disease and diabetes. Just remember, doing the training for one week isn’t going to help much — you need to sustain the training for at least eight weeks. Make sure you get your doctor’s advice on your particular case before undertaking any new exercise regime.