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Sprint Your Way to Heart Health

We’ve all heard at one time or another that exercise is good for heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease. In fact, that’s why we call it “cardio.” For many years, doctors and fitness professionals (including me!)  have told patients and clients to be sure to get regular steady state cardio most days of the week for at least 30 minutes a day. While this advice is still solid, new research is showing that when it comes to exercise and heart health, sometimes a sprint is better than a marathon.

According to new research recently published in the American Journal of Human Biology, when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease in adolescents, short-duration high-intensity exercise may be more beneficial for the heart than traditional endurance training that emphasizes a lower intensity for a longer amount of time. Researchers from the University of the West of Scotland recruited a group of volunteer school-aged children, and found that after seven weeks of regular exercise, those adolescents who did a short series of 20-meter sprints that only took minutes had just as many heart-health benefits as students who ran at a moderate intensity for 20 minutes, three times a week.

Researchers are quick to point out that both groups improved their risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, the total time of exercise over the course of seven weeks was six times higher for the moderate-intensity group, as compared to the high-intensity group. In a nutshell, this is fantastic news for those who don’t have a lot of time to devote to their fitness. Basically, to get heart health benefits of improved cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, body composition and insulin resistance, you can increase the intensity of exercise and work out for a shorter amount of time.

Now what about weight loss? Well, you still need to do longer moderate workouts to burn those calories. In the study, the high-intensity group only burned 907 calories on average over the seven weeks, while the moderate-intensity running group burned an estimated 4,410 calories.

This is the first study of this kind, so more research is needed to further understand high-intensity exercise’s heart-health benefits. Also, we’d love to see this study replicated in adults!

April 9th, 2011

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