Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interval training for walkers

Once upon a time, I averaged four miles an hour when I walked. This was based on a treadmill's calculation, but from experience, this seemed accurate. I even maintained this pace when shopping at the mall, embarrassing my then teenage children. It's not cool to walk briskly.

Then I aged. And picked up some sedentary hobbies. And grew lazy and complacent. Enter my Fitbit and RunKeeper, an app on my phone that tracks my outdoor exercise. Between the two, the fantasy that I was exercising enough was dispelled. The FitBit ticks off my steps, while RunKeeper coughs up all kinds of data, including miles/hour. The news was, four miles an hour was ancient history.

The NYTimes recently published an article headlined "1 Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion". As a retiree, one would think I had all the time in the world to exercise, but I don't. There are just too many other (more fun) things to do than slog around the neighborhood for an hour a day. So this article caught my attention.

While athletes have used interval training to improve performance, there were no scientific studies to support this practice. The NYTimes article described a study that not only supported interval training but also demonstrated that short bursts of intense exercise have benefits comparable to longer workouts. Hmmm.

I bought an elliptical trainer a while back. This was shortly before my month of illness, which interrupted my post-purchase motivation. Consequently, as is common with exercise equipment, the elliptical has been rather neglected.

After reading that NYTimes article, though, I started jumping on the machine and going hell-bent for leather, for (less than) a minute at a time. I don't do this every day, but often enough, apparently. Today, while walking the nabe (and perhaps spurred on by imminent rainfall), I neared the four mph mark for the first time in years. And my hips did not hurt while doing so.

I wouldn't recommend one-minute intervals of intense exercise as one's only activity. I will still walk, preferably outside, and do yoga and, if it ever snows again in these parts, cross country ski. But those bursts feel like they make a difference and are boosting my overall fitness. Not a bad cost/benefit ratio.

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