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Another Reason Why Exercise Intensity May Be More Important Than Exercise Duration

Movement promotes the health of every aspect of your being, including

  • your heart, lungs and cardiovascular system
  • bone and muscle health
  • endocrine balance
  • mood and social relationships
  • even the higher brain function of cognition

When it comes to thinking better and sharpening your memory, it turns out that the overall length of time you exercise isn’t critically important.  How hard you work is.

The latest info comes from a research project undertaken at the School of Medical Sciences in Western Australia.  Scientists there studied the relationship of exercise intensity to memory and other cognitive function in older adults.

The study participants wore exercise monitors around their waists for a week.  These measured the total amount of time the subjects spent exercising, and it also captured the level of intensity of their activities.  Participants were given a battery of memory and cognition tests before, during and after the study period.

The scientists assumed they’d be able to draw a link between total time spent exercising and the scores on the memory tests.  But they found only a weak relationship, if any.  However, when they correlated memory function with exercise intensitybingo! – all the dots lined up.

It turns out that many of the health benefits of exercise arise from the intensity of the exercise, not the duration.  That means you’re better off performing short periods of heart-pounding exercise (45 second-long bursts climbing stairs, intense weight-lifting, etc.) rather than undertaking a 10 kilometer run or 45 minute walk at a moderate pace.

You want to imitate the pattern of activity of a paleolithic hunter/gatherer. Most of the day you’re gathering nuts and berries, strolling through the forest at a leisurely pace.  You’re hardly ever sitting still.  Then, once in a while, when you spot a wildebeest within range, there’s a short burst of frantic running and spear-chucking.

Then, once you’ve dragged the carcass back to your village, there’s a big party with feasting and dancing.

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