An important recent study showed that interval training and a high pulse rate 2-3 times a week are better than weight loss and moderate exercise every day in controlling metabolic syndrome.
The disease of our time, metabolic syndrome, can lead to multiple health issues, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes.
It’s common to recommend continuous moderate exercise for people with metabolic syndrome.
What is metabolic syndrome?
According to the scientists, five conditions are metabolic risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
You may have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.
- A high triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
- A low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.
- High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.
To encourage our readers to seize the opportunity this summer to exercise smarter, not necessarily more, we’re featuring a landmark study conducted recently.
The study found that short, strenuous exercise intervals yielded greater health benefits than traditional exercise plans for people with metabolic syndrome.
The study is published in Circulation.
Researchers reported that 47% of patients who did the interval training program for four months reversed metabolic syndrome—compared with 36% among those who trained with constant, moderate intensity.
The training groups expended the same number of calories per workout.
This means that people who exercised at a continuous, moderate intensity had longer workouts than those who did high-intensity interval training, and that it was actually the exercise intensity that made the difference between the groups.
To determine which exercise intensity worked best in treating metabolic syndrome, 32 patients with a mean age of 52 were divided into three groups.
One group did aerobic interval training and one trained with continuous, moderate intensity. Both groups trained three times a week for four months. The third control group received training advice from their general practitioner.
“This study shows that exercise in general, but especially interval training, is able to partially or completely reverse metabolic syndrome,” said the lead author.
Increased training stamina
According to the researchers, the current guidelines for physical exercise may be too general for this group of people, most of whom have had an inactive lifestyle for many years.
“Our experience is that advising people to do interval training two to three times per week gets them into shape fast.”
“The only side effect is that they build up their stamina and take up old routines like walks in the woods on weekends, so they end up exercising more,” says the author.
“In contrast, we’ve found that people who haven’t exercised in years and who are advised to train every day, can’t stick with daily training as time goes by,” he adds.
“We realize that this may seem counterintuitive to a lot of folks who believe it’s impossible for most people to train at such a high intensity, but we dare say that anyone can do it.”
“It’s not exhausting training, but training at an intensity that’s about 20 heartbeats below the maximum for each person,” he says.
This means working with large muscles —like the ones you use for walking uphill, cycling, swimming, skiing or running —for four periods of four minutes, where you should get pretty out of breath (so it’s hard to talk), but not horribly tight in your legs.
If you cannot sustain this for four minutes, it’s too hard.
“We’ve conducted similar training for elderly patients with heart failure. And given that even they can manage it, the chances are reasonably good that most people can do it,” he said.
Conditioning more important than weight
The researchers looked at why interval training was better than other types of exercise. They found, among other things, that fitness levels increased by 35 per cent with interval training, but only by 16 per cent with other training.
At the same time patients’ hearts became stronger, they were better able to produce “fuel” for muscles, as well as improving vascular function and the regulation of blood glucose in blood, muscle and fat.
The researchers also found that both exercise groups reduced their weight equally.
Combined with the fact that the group who did the interval training reduced several of the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, this suggests that it may be more important to get into shape than to lose weight.
“Although obesity and lack of fitness both can lead to early death from cardiovascular disease, it appears that fitness is more important in preventing this,” the author said.
These findings therefore suggested that it may be more important for health care providers to try to improve their patients’ fitness level rather than to start by treating overweight, obesity, and type-2 diabetes using other treatment principles.
News source: NTNU Faculty of Medicine.
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