Using HIIT to "prolong active life"

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  • I’m a 68 year-old man. My mother is 91. Apparently, I am most likely to die before I am as old as my mother is now. I want to change those odds if I can!

    I’m changing my food and drink, but that is a topic for elsewhere. Here I’m talking about HIIT, which I’ve decided will be a component in trying to extend my active/quality life. Note “active” and “quality”!

    First, some observations. I’m the sort of nerd who reads academic papers instead of relying on media articles. Here are problems I’ve found:

    1. It is hard to find research on what sort of exercise should be done by someone whose most obvious life-threatening problems are “being 68” and “being male”. I’m considered to be an “elderly” pensioner, who should perhaps get a dog to get me out of the house occasionally! But I haven’t degenerated to that level yet.

    2. I can find research on HIIT for helping with the consequences of acute conditions such as heart attacks, or chronic conditions such as T2 diabetes, but typically not for simply being “elderly”. I can see why – it is important to reduce or solve such noncommunicable diseases. But that doesn’t help me.

    3. I haven’t found research into long-term use of HIIT, especially in the “elderly”. Most research, unsurprisingly, tends to identify what happens after weeks or at most a few months of HIIT. Little, if any, covers years of HIIT. Should I continue as I start, or should I switch to “maintenance mode” after a few months?

    Here is what I am doing.

    I first tried HIIT a couple of years ago, when I was a mere 66 and therefore not “elderly”. I added it to the exercises I was already doing to build up my strength and stamina for a somewhat strenuous wildlife photography holiday I had booked. For the HIIT I “simply” used the lightest pieces of exercise equipment I already had, or even no equipment at all for some exercises, and used them as fast as I could for 30 seconds each. (For example, “punching” as fast as possible with 1-kilogram dumb-bells in each hand for 30 seconds). Then pacing up and down between each high-intensity exercise to recover. I don’t know what this actually achieved, because it was mixed in with the other exercises. (The whole “exercise project” was successful).

    Now that I’m planning long-term use, I bought an exercise bike in October. I want to avoid too much wear-and-tear on my knees and hips, and also mainly to exercise my larger muscles. (But when I’m away from home I take those light-weight items I used before, and exercise my muscles above the waist).

    My exercise bike regime currently, (since the start of November), takes 8 minutes on the bike itself. Warm up at a moderate pace. Then 4 times 30-seconds flat out, with 90 seconds recovery at a moderate pace between them. Then wind down. (Then pace up and down for minutes until I feel human again!). I do this on non-adjacent days, on average 3 days per week.

    The exercise bike is a DKN AM-EB. (It had some good reviews but I don’t know much about how it compares with others). I use level 10 out of 32. That is just a guess, and I don’t know whether another setting would be better. I can imagine changing any or all of the numbers I’ve just quoted: perhaps 5 instead of 4; perhaps reduce the 90 seconds; perhaps use a different level.

    The problem is that, while the science suggests that I am doing myself some good, nearly all of the benefits are not obvious. Before I retired I was an engineer, used to running experiments. How can I tune the parameters to achieve optimum results? If I were trying to lose weight, or increase strength, I could measure that. But how do I measure a reduced risk of a heart attack or stroke? (Or, worse, am I even increasing some risks?)

    Questions and suggestions welcome!

    Hi Barry and welcome:

    I’m afraid the chance of long term studies on the elderly covering the effects of HIIT on longevity are slim, although it has been long established that exercise is extremely important for better health. Personally, I walk a lot.

    Here is a true story. A national committee of ‘experts’ in the U.S. developed yet another gauge of having heart attacks and strokes – a formula that yielded a percentage. This formula is used by extremely large medical systems in the U.S. to recommend preventative treatments to their patients. The way the formula works is that if your percentage of having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years is above 7.5%, then it is recommended you take statins. People that are above that 7.5% range usually ask what they can do to get within the 7.5% so they don’t have to take the drug – like exercise, lose weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, etc. If they are your age, they are told there is nothing they can do to reduce their 10 year percentage because the formula depends almost entirely on your age! The net result is that many U.S. citizens are now being encouraged to take statins after they reach a certain age, regardless of their cholesterol levels, weight, blood pressure levels or exercise amounts.

    While I wonder who had input into developing the formula, the fact is getting old is a bummer and life just ain’t fair.

    Hi Barry. I am a 71 year old male. I am one of those who were offered statins. Apparently I had a worse than 10% chance of a heart attack in the next 20 years, or perhaps it was 20% in the next 10 years. Whichever, I declined and lost 35 pounds. Any statistic on group mortality ignores the individual. It was a useful prod in the right direction, but we all control our own lives.

    I do Pilates for the mobility, the gym (rowing machine and weights) for stamina and strength. I walk and canoe/kayak for fun. Don’t underestimate the value of a dog. Mine has unfortunately died and my body misses the three walks a day that we went on. There is also a lot of heavy duty serious research that shows that pet owners live longer and recover from illness /surgery faster.

    I think that you could probably take what science suggests as a given. Reducing weight and increasing strength and fitness are measurable and will reduce your risk of stroke or heart attack. That is as long as you don’t go from doing nothing to running a competitive marathon.

    Hi, simcoeluv. Thanks for replying.

    The more I read about statins, the less I want to have anything to do with them. I don’t like the reports of side-effects, which don’t appear to be properly recorded. And recent research revealed that they reduce the effects of the flu vaccination, etc. The science of statins is clearly “work in progress”!

    I too walk (fast) a lot, but I don’t think of it as exercise. It is just “getting on with life”. I’m doing HIIT to achieve things that other exercise-types won’t achieve, or at least not as efficiently.

    Hi, penguin. Thanks for that.

    While I could measure increased strength, I’m not sure how to measure increased fitness in a general sense. Certainly not the fitness-factors that I expect HIIT to address. I suspect that I would need to buy some checks that are not available on the NHS. Without such information, it will be hard to tune my HIIT parameters.

    Weight is not an issue. My BMI is probably about 21, and no-one ever suggests I should lose weight. (I’m not sure why this is; perhaps a combination of a high basal metabolic rate and high NEAT?) I would be happy to add muscle-mass, but in body-building terms I’m an ectomorph-type “hard gainer”. (I say weight is not an issue; arguably I’m under-weight, which could have health implications, but there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about that).

    I agree with your comment about the statistics. Whenever I look at the science relating to the topics covered by NHS guidelines, I realise that the guidelines may be useful for social engineering, but not so good for the individual. I suspect we will see general guidelines replaced by personalised guidelines over the next 10 years.

    Barry, I hope you are right, but I suspect that personal guidelines will fall into the “too expensive” category. The more I read about BMI the less I trust it as a measure that works for me. It tells us something useful about populations as long as they are of Northern European ethnicity and of average build, but makes no allowance for the individual. Too much muscle will take you over the limit, it seems to have been designed for sedentary office workers. It certainly didn’t work for the military community in which I served, and we were fit. Even when I hit my target weight, my own BMI will indicate that I am bordering on overweight. I am 6′ 5″ and I need some core and upper body muscles for the way I live, so I am never going to achieve the “ideal” BMI.

    Thanks, penguin.

    The BMI was first invented about 150 years ago as a way of gathering population statistics. Not as a measure of health.

    To a mathematician, the basic formula is obviously dubious! It compares an area (height squared) with something related to a volume (weight). There have been many criticisms of that “square” formula.

    The boundaries between the words such as “under-weight”, “normal”, “over-weight”, “obesity”, (18.5, 25, 30, etc), are opinions rather than numbers identified by science. (There is no scientific research that demonstrates that those are the right numbers).

    Using the BMI alone to diagnose an individual is equivalent to diagnosing someone without examining them. Similarly for advising someone, which is equivalent to prescribing medicine without examining the patient.

    There are known to be various better methods, but the BMI is so well known that there is reluctance to move forward.

    Barry, I have just had another of those periodic NHS health checks for the old. My weight is down to an acceptable level. My urine is fine. My blood pressure is good. My blood checks say that my kidney, liver and other functions are fine. I have a slow steady pulse. My cholesterol is better than it was – top of the acceptable range but OK. Nothing is wrong. Even so, it appears that I have a 23% chance of a heart attack in the next 10 years. Apart from being 40 years younger I am not sure how to improve those odds!

    Hello,
    I just started HIIT and HIT weight lifting as per MM’s book on fast exercise. I hate exercise so quite enjoy this very short spurt of exercise. I walk to a nearby hill and down it (warmup) walk up the hill (HIIT) and walk home (cooldown). I am doing this not to live longer, but to live better.

    What I really need is something to stave off senility as it is in my family.

    There has been animal studies done to determine whether the drug Metformin will increase lifespan and apparently it does. Now humans are wanted for a study to see if it will work.

    penguin:

    I have the same feeling about those apparently relentless odds! My view is:

    I’ll try to stay alive and active and healthy as long as possible, and hope they will have a cure or alleviation by the time I get something that would kill me now.

    I’m glad that your checks look so good! And that you have a 77% chance of not having a heart attack in the next 10 years.

    PJBR, thanks for that information.

    Interesting! There is a view in some circles that one of the most important causes of aging is inflamation. Does Metformin address that? Is that an aspect of its affect on Type 2 Diabetes, which also involves inflamation? (I guess studies in humans will take many years).

    As I said at the start, I am changing my food and drink as well as exercise. In other words, I am trying to achieve a sustainable (and enjoyable) lifestyle to keep me healthy. In order to identify whether I’m getting things right, I need to have health checks after a period that is sufficient to ensure the lifestyle is sustainable, and sufficient for it to take effect.

    To avoid complicating the results of the checks, I intend to see if I can avoid ALL medication, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, in 2016. (I may have the flu-jab later in the year; I haven’t decided yet). Then I’ll have a better idea of what is or isn’t working.

    So I wouldn’t be in the market for Metformin in 2016!

    Barry: the issue with Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, not inflammation. In fact, both intense exercise and fasting stress the body and produce an inflammatory response and oxidative stress. An important study involved people fasting, some taking anti-oxidants during fasting and it found that the anti-oxidant (Vitamin C) virtually eliminated the metabolic benefits of fasting. There is also reason to think that anti-inflammatory drug reduce the benefits of resistance exercise like weight lifting. So from my own study of the science, I have come to believe that there are healthy forms of stress, like exercise and fasting, and harmful forms like mental stress and environmental stress including toxic substances like alcohol.

    Both high intensity interval training and fasting stress the body in similar ways which results in autophagy and mitophagy (the destruction of old cells and dysfunctional mitochondria) followed by biogenesis (the rebuilding and restorative process.) With regard to Type 2 diabetes, both exercise and fasting lower insulin resistance which is the key factor in Type 2 diabetes. But here’s the thing: that effect only last something like 12 to 24 hours so, as a Type 2 diabetic myself I need to exercise almost every day (or fast.) The result is that I have put my diabetes into remission, although I still take a low dose of metformin since it causes me no side effects and does not cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) like drugs that act on the pancreas and insulin. The combination of metformin and regular exercise does a great job of reducing the impact of hyperglycemia and diabetes.

    P.S. My suggestion is to get that flu shot!

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