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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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