Andrew Marr "HIT" Explanation

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  • We recently got a very interesting Tweet about HIIT and Andrew Marr this morning and wanted to answer this in detail – not 140 characters Twitter lets us have! Here is the tweet:

    Sue Armstrong ‏@gingerpilates

    @FastExerciseNow @DrMichaelMosley Would be good to know impact HIT on Andrew Marr? Any thoughts to share?

    Great question Sue. This has been the topic of much media coverage recently due to Marr’s well known, I suppose celebrity, status but mostly for his statement that it was a “result” of exercise that he had his stroke. This has been misconstrued a lot since the interview was given and needs rapid explanation. Rather large essay I’m sorry! But it needs a full explanation not a quick this is why – its a complicated situation.

    Simply, yes, the stroke most likely started when he was performing the high intensity exercise “Andrew Marr has described how he felt the symptoms of his stroke after he went on a rowing machine and “gave it everything [he] had” (NHS 2013). However, what caused the stroke is likely to be very different.

    There are two main kinds of stroke resulting from a lack of blood, and therefore oxygen, being delivered to the brain. The most common is a blockage occurring in a major blood vessel to the brain as a result of a cholesterol building up on the inside of all blood vessels. With this build up they narrow so the likelihood of a blockage is increased.

    The other kind, and one that Marr had according to reports, is that pressure inside the blood vessels increases so much that the vessel itself splits, meaning enough blood doesn’t go through it, reaching the brain, causing a stroke. In your normal healthy person, the blood vessels are flexible and strong enough to allow this increase of pressure. However, if you’re lifestyle is unhealthy then one of the things that can happen is the blood vessels become weak and inflexible, thus making a split more likely with increased blood pressure, called a haemorrhagic stroke. (NHS 2013).

    Now it must be remembered that blood pressure does goes up in response to exercise. It does this in order to supply the body with the blood that it needs for exercise and especially so during intense exercise over a long period. So Marr feeling the effects of the stroke during the time he “went on a rowing machine and gave it everything he had” (NHS 2013) is not unlikely as this intense activity most probably burst the blood vessel in question.

    Your average healthy person is unlikely to suffer a stroke. Most modern research suggests that increasing your exercise levels at all will lower your risk having one. However, extreme exercise, it is worth noting, can be dangerous in certain situations, aka you’re unhealthy. But when we say extreme exercise we’re talking Insanity, P90X – extended HIIT that increases and maintains the blood pressure at a very high level for an extended period of time. For instance, 30 minutes of HIIT on a rower which, according to his interviews, is what Andrew Marr was doing at the onset of his stroke. These forms of exercise do take a toll on the body and do need to be approached cautiously and not just ploughed into at the onset of physical activity if you haven’t been active before in your life or are unhealthy.

    However, if we’re willing to suggest that the extreme exercise triggered the stroke, this cannot be assumed to be the cause of the stroke happening. Marr has frequently discussed his unhealthy lifestyle in terms of one of the biggest causes of hypertension leading to a stroke – stress. Post stroke he has openly expressed how he needs to change his lifestyle. He has “vowed to put his abrasive reputation behind him. ‘I want to be kinder and nicer now,’ he said ‘I’ve had lots of fights with lots of people” (Guardian 2013) and that he has been overworking whilst training extremely hard (BBC 2013). Furthermore, even though the media emphasis has run with the “exercise caused my stroke” line, the NHS (2013) mentioned that Marr had been “Heavily overworked”, probably for some time, which is a well known risk factor of stress and indicator of a stroke risk.

    In addition to this (!) Marr has informed the world he went through two ‘mini-strokes’ – or transient ischaemic attacks – the year before, but he “hadn’t noticed”. This is extremely unfortunate, as a TIA is one of the major danger signs of a stroke and that your lifestyle must change. Victims are often given blood pressure drugs at the same time to lower their risk of a full blown stroke. If he had noticed (I believe he was asleep which, given, makes this bit quite tricky!) then you would have hoped he would have had a major lifestyle shift a year prior to his stroke date and it potentially would never have happened.

    So. What does all this mean for Fast Exercise? The NHS (2013) article below suggests that moderate exercise has been long advocated as a means of lowering the risk of having a stroke. Furthermore, Marr’s extreme vigorous exercise, on top of an extreme stressful, unrestful lifestyle as a political correspondent and editor with an aggressive stance on interviews, may have been a factor as to why he had a stroke. But, what they also say, is that new research is coming out at the time the article was written – 2013 – suggesting short intense exercise may be just as good at lowering stroke risk as moderate and that more research is necessary. This is true, and this is why Fast Exercise has been at the forefront of this research, with all the claims in the book being scientifically backed up (please view the list of references in the book to see each study and look up yourself if you’re interested in the science). Since this NHS article came out more research has been done and is showing this is case.

    The reason Fast Exercise works so well is the limited about of time you’re under pressure when working intensely. This is especially the case for overweight or unhealthy populations. Unlike straight up HIIT workouts, which can last twenty minutes or more, Fast Exercise is advocating 2 or 3 sets of 20 seconds and that’s it. The reason for this is that the gains in terms of health in the body are the same as moderate activity without the time pressure of 30 minutes 5 times a week of moderate activity. People are more likely to get it done in 3 or 4 minutes than half an hour of moderate intensity. Moreover, the stress on the blood system, the high pressure it goes under in order to perform extended HIIT, is not present. Thus significantly lowering the risk of a split blood vessel stroke like Andrew Marr had.

    Now this isn’t to say extended HIIT is something you shouldn’t do – not at all. But it is something that should be worked up to gradually and as with any serve sport or extreme activity, coming from an unhealthy background or with any history of these sorts of medical conditions in your family, get approved by your GP first. Also being aware that as with and extreme activity like extended HIIT, this does increase health risks. Its not a case of the more you do the better you are. Yes, it will give you a better body quicker if that’s what your goal is. But be aware, there are other risks involved, including injury, overtraining, and extreme muscular tension that if not addressed at the time can cause complications further down the line.

    I hope this goes to answer the debate on Andrew Marr and show that this should not be a reason to stop doing your HIIT if you have been doing so effectively until now. But to be cautious of what you’re doing if you’re lifestyle is stressful. Under all circumstances you must be getting your recovery in terms of sleep, hydration and necessary nutrition as increasing your bodies work load like this does force it to require more.

    Any more specific questions feel free to message me.

    JC

    References

    http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/04april/pages/is-exercise-to-blame-for-andrew-marrs-stroke.aspx

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23530168

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/aug/04/andrew-marr-nhs

    Fast Exercise Book and related studies

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