Heart patients benefit most from high-intensity workouts that put greater stresses on the heart, but for shorter periods of time, new research out of Norway shows.
Although doctors once counseled people with coronary heart disease to be careful when exercising, the latest research shows cardiac patients can safely exercise to improve their health and high-intensity fitness programs offer solid benefits.
"When people give priority to exercise in their otherwise busy lives, they want to know that they are doing it the right way," said lead researcher Trine Moholdt, a postdoctoral fellow at the G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
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"At the same time, I want to emphasize that all exercise is better than none! Some people are not able to exercise at high intensity because of other health problems, and one should then look for other alternatives."
High-intensity training is gaining in popularity because it is a time-saving approach to getting fit. There are many types of HIT workouts, but most involve alternating between short bursts of intense activity — that aim to boost the heart rate to 80 or 90 percent of capacity — and slower cool-down periods. It might involve sprinting or bicycling as fast as you can for several minutes, then jogging or biking slowly for several minutes, then repeating the pattern for a set period of time.
In the past, heart patients have been counseled to exercise only at a moderate intensity to protect their hearts. But the Norwegian researchers found high-intensity exercise is very beneficial for at least some patients.
For the study, researchers analyzed four randomized, controlled trials conducted at the center to try to determine the most effective high-intensity training program for heart patients.
The researchers tracked changes in peak oxygen uptake, as a measure of the effectiveness of the different exercise regimes. The study involved a total of 112 participants with coronary heart disease who exercised for 12 weeks. The participants exercised on treadmill, walked uphill outdoors, or trained in a group following a so-called four-by-four exercise model — involving four minutes of high-intensity exercise followed by three minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, repeated four times.
The results showed that overall, the peak oxygen uptake of all the participants increased by nearly 12 percent after an average of 23 training sessions during the 12-week period. But when participants exercised at an intensity that was 85-95 percent of their maximum heart rate during the high-intensity periods, the effect was even greater.
"When we compared [oxygen uptake] before and after the training period, we found that the number of training sessions, the subject's age or baseline fitness levels had no impact," said Moholdt. "But the intensity of the intervals had a significant effect, and seems to be the most important characteristic of an effective interval session."
The article was published online in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
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