Best exercises for fat loss (not weight loss)

Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss: Why The Scale Isn’t The Best Indicator Of Fitness

How many times have you heard someone say, “I need to lose weight?”

While that can certainly be a worthwhile endeavor, what they usually really mean to say is, “I want to lose fat.” Though most people use the terms weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, they are not in fact the same, and require different methods to achieve each goal. Here, we explain why fat loss — not weight loss — should be your primary focus, and why the typical methods used for weight loss may not always work for fat loss efforts.

Weight Loss

Our bodies are composed of primarily fat, muscle, water, bone and other tissue. All of these things combined make up our total weight. When someone says that they want to lose weight, they usually mean that they want to see a lower number on the scale. Thus, weight loss often comes from a combination of fat, muscle, and water to shift those pounds.

Depending on your fitness level, the average, healthy person’s weight comes from:

  • Muscle: 30 to 55% of body weight
  • Fat: 10-30% of body weight
  • Water (not in muscle or fat): 10-25%
  • Bone: 15% of body weight
  • Organs and tissues: 10-15%

Fat Loss

Fat loss is accomplished when we burn stored fat, while preserving or building muscle at the same time. Fat loss doesn’t always result in a lower number on the scale, but it will change the composition of your body. Some people think that fat can be turned into muscle through diet and exercise. You should be aware that this is a myth.

Losing Weight

losing weight- what matters

Most weight loss programs have you do two things:

  • Eat no more than 1200-1500 calories per day
  • Perform aerobic exercises 5-6 days per week

Any combination of drastically reducing calories and adding aerobic exercise will most certainly result in weight loss. The problem with this is that not all of the weight lost will be from fat. Some of it will be water weight, which is temporary, and some will be muscle. If you lose muscle along with fat, you’ll simply be a smaller version of your previous flabby self.

Aerobic exercises like jogging have their benefits. However, there are better cardiovascular exercises, such as HIIT-style full-body moves (including burpees, jump squats etc.), as well as things like swimming or uphill spinning, that will provide much better fat loss results.

Losing Fat

How To Burn Fat And Build Muscle With Training Complexes

Losing fat without also losing muscle is a bit more complicated than simply losing weight. Fat loss programs involve paying more attention to the types of foods you eat, rather than just focusing on reducing calories. They also includes different kinds of exercises that burn fat and preserve muscle at the same time, like weight-lifting and strength-training moves. This can sometimes lead to higher numbers on the scale, but the end result will be a smaller, more toned shape.

Why Muscle Matters

why muscle matters in losing weight or fat

Muscle burns more calories than fat even when you are doing nothing. This is called your basal metabolic rate, or BMR. One pound of muscle burns 6 calories per day, while one pound of fat burns only 2 pounds.

A study in the April 1999 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition proved the calorie-burning benefits of muscle. The study put two groups of obese individuals on a very low-calorie diet. One group did only aerobic exercises four times per week while the other group did only resistance exercises three times per week. After 12 weeks, the aerobics group lost more weight than the resistance group. However, in the aerobics group almost one third of the weight lost was muscle. The resistance group lost only fat.

Even more importantly, the aerobics group’s resting metabolic rate was 210 calories less than it was before they lost weight. The resistance group’s resting metabolic rate was 63 calories more. What all of this means is that the more muscle you have the more calories you can eat to maintain or even lose fat.

Another important benefit of muscle is that it is less dense than fat. One pound of fat is four times larger than one pound of muscle. That means that someone who weighs 150 pounds of mostly fat will look larger than another person who weighs 150 pounds of mostly muscle.

The Best Way To Lose Fat (And Not Muscle)

The Best Way To Lose Fat (And Not Muscle)

  • Subtract no more than 500 calories from what you are currently eating
  • Add more protein to your diet and reduce refined carbohydrates
  • HIIT workouts 2-3 days per week
  • Strength training 2-3 days per week

Fat-Burning HIIT Workouts

Fat-Burning HIIT Workouts

Any activity that repeatedly raises then lowers the heart rate over a period of time can be considered HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

This can include basic sprints, spinning with sprints and/or hills,pylometrics, Tabatas, or bodyweight HIIT workouts that use a variety of exercises to give you a full-body workout with a cardio boost.

If your goal is to lose weight just to generally see a smaller number on the scale, eat fewer calories and exercise 5 to 6 days per week.

However, If you want to lose fat and build-calorie torching muscle, a combination of proper nutrition, HIIT workouts and strength-training is the most effective way to achieve a smaller, toned body.

7 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

While most people know that physical activity is healthy, it’s estimated that about 30% of people worldwide don’t get enough (1).

Unless you have a physically demanding job, a dedicated fitness routine is likely your best bet for getting active.

Unfortunately, many people feel that they don’t have enough time to exercise (2, 3).

If this sounds like you, maybe it’s time to try high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Young Woman Sprinting

HIIT is a broad term for workouts that involve short periods of intense exercise alternated with recovery periods.

One of the biggest advantages of HIIT is that you can get maximal health benefits in minimal time.

This article explains what HIIT is and examines 7 of its top health benefits.

What Is High-Intensity Interval Training?

HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise alternated with low-intensity recovery periods. Interestingly, it is perhaps the most time-efficient way to exercise (4, 5).

Typically, a HIIT workout will range from 10 to 30 minutes in duration (4).

Despite how short the workout is, it can produce health benefits similar to twice as much moderate-intensity exercise (6, 7).

The actual activity being performed varies but can include sprinting, biking, jump rope or other body weight exercises.

For example, a HIIT workout using a stationary exercise bike could consist of 30 seconds of cycling as fast as possible against high resistance, followed by several minutes of slow, easy cycling with low resistance.

This would be considered one “round” or “repetition” of HIIT, and you would typically complete 4 to 6 repetitions in one workout (4).

The specific amount of time you exercise and recover will vary based on the activity you choose and how intensely you are exercising.

Regardless of how it is implemented, high-intensity intervals should involve short periods of vigorous exercise that make your heart rate speed up (4, 8).

Not only does HIIT provide the benefits of longer-duration exercise in a much shorter amount of time — it may also provide some unique health benefits (4).

1. HIIT Can Burn a Lot of Calories in a Short Amount of Time

Hand Holding a Stopwatch

You can burn calories quickly using HIIT (9, 10).

One study compared the calories burned during 30 minutes each of HIIT, weight training, running and biking.

The researchers found that HIIT burned 25–30% more calories than the other forms of exercise (9).

In this study, a HIIT repetition consisted of 20 seconds of maximal effort, followed by 40 seconds of rest.

This means that the participants were actually only exercising for 1/3 of the time that the running and biking groups were.

Although each workout session was 30 minutes long in this study, it is common for HIIT workouts to be much shorter than traditional exercise sessions.

This is because HIIT allows you to burn about the same amount of calories, but spend less time exercising.

Summary: HIIT may help you burn more calories than traditional exercise, or burn the same amount of calories in a shorter amount of time.

2. Your Metabolic Rate Is Higher for Hours After Exercise

One of the ways HIIT helps you burn calories actually comes after you are done exercising.

Several studies have demonstrated HIIT’s impressive ability to increase your metabolic rate for hours after exercise (11, 12, 13).

Some researchers have even found that HIIT increases your metabolism after exercise more so than jogging and weight training (11).

In the same study, HIIT was also found to shift the body’s metabolism toward using fat for energy rather than carbs.

Another study showed that just two minutes of HIIT in the form of sprints increased metabolism over 24 hours as much as 30 minutes of running (14).

Summary: Due to the intensity of the workout, HIIT can elevate your metabolism for hours after exercise. This results in additional calories being burned even after you have finished exercising.

3. It Can Help You Lose Fat

Tape Measure

Studies have shown that HIIT can help you lose fat.

One review looked at 13 experiments and 424 overweight and obese adults.

Interestingly, it found that both HIIT and traditional moderate-intensity exercise can reduce body fat and waist circumference (15).

Additionally, one study found that people performing HIIT three times per week for 20 minutes per session lost 4.4 pounds, or 2 kgs, of body fat in 12 weeks — without any dietary changes (16).

Perhaps more important was the 17% reduction in visceral fat, or the disease-promoting fat surrounding your internal organs.

Several other studies also indicate that body fat can be reduced with HIIT, despite the relatively low time commitment (17, 18, 19).

However, like other forms of exercise, HIIT may be most effective for fat loss in those who are overweight or obese (20, 21).

Summary: High-intensity intervals can produce similar fat loss to traditional endurance exercise, even with a much smaller time commitment. They can also reduce unhealthy visceral fat.

4. You Might Gain Muscle Using HIIT

In addition to helping with fat loss, HIIT could help increase muscle mass in certain individuals (16, 21, 22, 23).

However, the gain in muscle mass is primarily in the muscles being used the most, often the trunk and legs (16, 21, 23).

Additionally, it’s important to note that increases in muscle mass are more likely to occur in individuals who were less active to begin with (24).

Some research in active individuals has failed to show higher muscle mass after HIIT programs (25).

Weight training continues to be the “gold standard” form of exercise to increase muscle mass, but high-intensity intervals could support a small amount of muscle growth (24, 26).

Summary: If you are not very active, you may gain some muscle by starting HIIT but not as much as if you performed weight training.

5. HIIT Can Improve Oxygen Consumption

Man Looking at His Watch While Working Out

Oxygen consumption refers to your muscles’ ability to use oxygen, and endurance training is typically used to improve your oxygen consumption.

Traditionally, this consists of long sessions of continuous running or cycling at a steady rate.

However, it appears that HIIT can produce the same benefits in a shorter amount of time (20, 21, 27).

One study found that five weeks of HIIT workouts performed four days per week for 20 minutes each session improved oxygen consumption by 9% (6).

This was almost identical to the improvement in oxygen consumption in the other group in the study, who cycled continuously for 40 minutes per day, four days per week.

Another study found that eight weeks of exercising on the stationary bike using traditional exercise or HIIT increased oxygen consumption by about 25% (7).

Once again, the total time exercising was much different between groups: 120 minutes per week for the traditional exercise versus only 60 minutes per week of HIIT.

Additional studies also demonstrate that HIIT can improve oxygen consumption (25, 28).

Summary: High-intensity interval training can improve oxygen consumption as much as traditional endurance training, even if you only exercise about half as long.

6. It Can Reduce Heart Rate and Blood Pressure

Heart and Blood Pressure Measurement

HIIT may have important health benefits, as well.

A large amount of research has indicated that it can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese individuals, who often have high blood pressure (20).

One study found that eight weeks of HIIT on a stationary bike decreased blood pressure as much as traditional continuous endurance training in adults with high blood pressure (7).

In this study, the endurance training group exercised four days per week for 30 minutes per day, but the HIIT group only exercised three times per week for 20 minutes per day.

Some researchers have found that HIIT may even reduce blood pressure more than the frequently recommended moderate-intensity exercise (29).

However, it appears that high-intensity exercise does not typically change blood pressure in normal-weight individuals with normal blood pressure (20).

Summary: HIIT can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, primarily in overweight or obese individuals with high blood pressure.

7. Blood Sugar Can Be Reduced by HIIT

Blood sugar can be reduced by HIIT programs lasting less than 12 weeks (20, 30).

A summary of 50 different studies found that not only does HIIT reduce blood sugar, but it also improves insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise (31).

Based on this information, it is possible that high-intensity exercise is particularly beneficial for those at risk for type 2 diabetes (31).

In fact, some experiments specifically in individuals with type 2 diabetes have demonstrated the effectiveness of HIIT for improving blood sugar (32).

However, even research in healthy individuals indicates that HIIT may be able to improve insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise (27).

Summary: High-intensity interval training may be especially beneficial for those needing to improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. These improvements have been seen in both healthy and ailing individuals.

How to Get Started With HIIT

Woman Exercising and Monitoring Progress

There are many ways to add high-intensity intervals to your exercise routine, so it isn’t hard to get started.

To begin, you just need to choose your activity (running, biking, jumping, etc.).

Then, you can experiment with different durations of exercise and recovery, or how long you are performing intense exercise and how long you are recovering.

Here are a few simple examples of HIIT workouts:

  • Using a stationary bike, pedal as hard and fast as possible for 30 seconds. Then, pedal at a slow, easy pace for two to four minutes. Repeat this pattern for 15 to 30 minutes.
  • After jogging to warm up, sprint as fast as you can for 15 seconds. Then, walk or jog at a slow pace for one to two minutes. Repeat this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Perform squat jumps as quickly as possible for 30 to 90 seconds. Then, stand or walk for 30 to 90 seconds. Repeat this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes.

While these examples can get you started, you should modify your own routine based on your own preferences.

Summary: There are many ways to implement HIIT into your exercise routine. Experiment to find which routine is best for you.

The Bottom Line

High-intensity interval training is a very efficient way to exercise, and may help you burn more calories than you would with other forms of exercise.

Some of the calories burned from high-intensity intervals come from a higher metabolism, which lasts for hours after exercise.

Overall, HIIT produces many of the same health benefits as other forms of exercise in a shorter amount of time.

These benefits include lower body fat, heart rate and blood pressure. HIIT may also help lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.

So, if you are short on time and want to get active, you may want to consider trying high-intensity interval training.

Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity

Running is a popular and convenient leisure-time physical activity (PA) with a significant impact on longevity. In general, runners have a 25-40% reduced risk of premature mortality and live approximately 3 years longer than non-runners.

Recently, specific questions have emerged regarding the extent of the health benefits of running versus other types of PA, and perhaps more critically, whether there are diminishing returns on health and mortality outcomes with higher amounts of running.

This review details the findings surrounding the impact of running on various health outcomes and premature mortality, highlights plausible underlying mechanisms linking running with chronic disease prevention and longevity, identifies the estimated additional life expectancy among runners and other active individuals, and discusses whether there is adequate evidence to suggest that longevity benefits are attenuated with higher doses of running.

Review published here by Lee Duck-chul, Brellenthin Angelique G., Thompson Paul D., Sui Xuemei, Lee I-Min, Lavie Carl J., Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity, Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases (2017), doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005

Regular physical activity (PA) prevents chronic diseases and reduces the risk of premature cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality.1,2 There is also some evidence indicating that vigorous-intensity aerobic PA (defined as any activity requiring an energy expenditure of ≥6 metabolic equivalents [METs]) could be superior to moderate-intensity aerobic PA (3-6 METs) in reducing the risk of premature mortality.3–5 The United States (US) and World Health Organization (WHO) PA Guidelines recommend 150 min/week of moderate-intensity or 75 min/week of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA (equal to ≥500 MET-min/week).6,7 However, self- report data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey indicate that only approximately 50% of Americans obtain this minimum recommended amount of PA.8 This estimate drops dramatically, to 5-10%, using PA data collected via objective measures.9,10

Running is among the most popular types of exercise and PA in individuals who do engage in vigorous-intensity PA.11,12 Running participation has grown throughout the past decade, and it peaked in 2013 when approximately 19 million individuals finished a road race of any distance.13 More recent reports from the 2015 race season indicated that there were 17.1 million running participants, and the total number of road races increased by 2,300 between 2014 and 2015, suggesting that running remains a popular leisure-time activity.13 Running is an attractive mode of exercise for many reasons. Compared with other types of vigorous-intensity sports and exercises, running mitigates many barriers to being physically active. Running is easily accessible and convenient since it does not require a gym membership or specialized equipment or training. Furthermore, even slow jogging is consistently considered a vigorous- intensity PA, so it reduces the time commitment of exercise to reach the recommended levels of PA, which is often cited as the primary barrier preventing people from exercising.14,15


Moreover, mounting evidence suggests that running durations below the recommended guidelines of ≥75 min/week of vigorous-intensity PA offer substantial, and possibly maximal, protections against mortality.16,17 Running may confer superior benefits over other types of vigorous-intensity PA, since it is more strongly associated with lower body weights and smaller waist circumferences.18 Therefore, running may be an ideal exercise modality from both an individual and a public health standpoint.

Longevity Benefits of Running

There are several large population-based cohort studies, which have examined all-cause mortality and other health outcomes among runners compared with non-runners.17,19–22 Overall, these studies found that after adjusting for age and sex, runners have 30-45% lower risk of all-cause mortality. After further controlling for smoking status, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic variables, body mass index (BMI), and other types of PA, the impact of running on reducing all-cause mortality remains substantial, reducing the risk of premature death by 25- 40%.

Running is protective against both CVD and cancer, the two leading causes of death in most developed countries including the US.23 The risk of CVD-related mortality is reduced 45- 70% in runners compared with non-runners after adjusting for potential confounders.17,19,20,22 Runners also have 30-50% reduced risk of cancer-related mortality compared with non-runners after adjusting for cofounders.20–22 Beyond CVD and cancer, there is additional evidence that running may be protective against mortality resulting from neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, and respiratory infections.20

Runners also tend to engage in other healthy behaviors that contribute to their increased longevity such as maintaining a normal body weight, not smoking, and consuming light-to-moderate amounts
of alcohol.24 Most studies have adjusted their models to account for these confounders.17,19–22 However, there is evidence suggesting that it might be important to tease apart the effects of running on mortality relative to each of these covariates rather than simply controlling for them. We found that there was a greater mortality benefit in runners in both patient and healthy populations, smokers and non-smokers, and lean and overweight individuals in stratified subsample analyses of data from over 55,000 men and women aged 18- 100 years (Fig. 1).17 The mortality benefits of running were consistent regardless of age, sex, and alcohol consumption.
In this large cohort, runners overall had 30% and 45% lower risks of all-cause and CVD mortality, respectively, compared with non-runners, after adjusting for a comprehensive set of potential confounders.


Figure 1 – Hazard Ratios of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality by Subgroup. The reference group for all analyses is non-runners. Hazard ratios were adjusted for baseline age, sex (not in sex-stratified analyses), examination year, smoking status (never, former, or current. not in smoking-stratified analyses), alcohol consumption (heavy drinker or not. not in alcohol drinking-stratified analyses), other physical activities except running (0, 1-499, or ≥500 MET- min/week), and parental cardiovascular disease (yes or no). Unhealthy was defined as the presence of one or more of the following: abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG), hypertension, diabetes, or hypercholesterolemia. Heavy alcohol drinking was defined as >14 and >7 drinks/week for men and women, respectively (Adapted from Lee et al.17).

Is Running More Important for Longevity than other Lifestyle and Health Risk Factors?

The WHO has reported that 6% of premature mortality is related to physical inactivity.25 Another recent review indicated that physical inactivity causes 9% of all-cause mortality worldwide.1 Physical inactivity has been cited as the 4th leading global risk factor for death, especially in middle-to-high income countries, after high blood pressure (BP) (1st), cigarette smoking (2nd), and high blood glucose (3rd)25. Overweight/obesity and high cholesterol were found to be the 5th and 6th leading risk factors for death. All of these factors contribute to developing chronic diseases, such as CVD and cancer, leading to increased risk of premature mortality. Identifying and ranking risk factors provides public health policymakers with a quantitative estimate of the potential relative impact (i.e., proportional reduction in mortality that would be expected by interventions to reduce the risk factor of interest). Since running is one of the most popular and convenient leisure-time PA, it is informative to compare the relative contribution of running versus other risk factors on disease prevention and health promotion from a public health perspective.

We have estimated the population attributable fraction (PAF) for running and other health risk factors to quantify their relative influence on mortality.17 Running was as important as hypertension (HTN) in the multivariable analyses, and more important than overweight/obesity or smoking as an attributable factor to prevent premature mortality in our sample. Running accounted for 16% and 25% of all-cause and CVD mortality, respectively (Fig. 2). If all non-runners became runners in this population, 16% of all-cause and 25% of CVD mortality deaths would be prevented in the context of population-mortality burden.


Figure 2 – Population attributable fraction (PAF) by running and other lifestyle and health risk factors. PAF was adjusted for baseline age, sex, examination year, and all other risk factors in the figure. PAF was computed as Pc (1-1/HRadj), where Pc is the prevalence of the mortality predictor among mortality cases, and HRadj is the multivariable hazard ratio for mortality associated with the specified mortality predictor (Adapted from Lee et al.17).

A possible limitation in this comparison is that running was measured by self-report, whereas other clinical risk factors such as BP and fasting glucose were measured objectively. Thus, there may be a measurement error in the running estimate due to recall bias and social desirability. To reduce this potential error, we also examined cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), a more objective marker for recent PA, that was obtained from a laboratory maximal treadmill test.26 The results were similar to our findings on reported running, and indicated that low CRF accounted for 16% of all deaths as the leading mortality predictor, followed by HTN, smoking, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes mellitus (DM).

The consistent findings of the significant contributions of running and CRF on mortality outcomes underscore the importance of including PA and CRF assessments in routine medical examinations along with other clinical tests (e.g., BP and lipid profile). Running, as a key lifestyle medicine, could make a substantial public health impact on disease prevention and longevity.

Potential Mechanisms Linking Running to Health Outcomes

There are many purported mechanisms through which running may reduce premature mortality (Fig. 3). Numerous epidemiological studies have reported associations between running/vigorous exercise and improvements in various chronic disease risk factors, including HTN, dyslipidemia, body composition, insulin sensitivity, blood glucose regulation, disability, bone mineral density, and CRF.27–30 Running/vigorous exercise may reduce some types of cancer-related mortality (e.g., breast and colon cancer) through its effects on body composition and female hormones (estrogen and progesterone in breast cancer).29 Dose-dependent associations have also been found between PA and improved cognitive function and reduced depressive symptoms,31–33 potentially reducing mortality related to some neurological or

Figure 3 – Potential Mechanistic Pathway Between Running/Vigorous Exercise and Increased Longevity. An up arrow (↑) indicates an increase and a down arrow (↓) indicates a decrease.


Notably, running may particularly benefit CVD mortality through its robust effects on CRF,34,35 which is generally better enhanced with vigorous-intensity PA.7,36 We found that every 30 minutes of additional weekly running time was associated with 0.5 MET higher CRF after adjusting for age and sex.17 In fact, after further adjustment for CRF, mortality benefits of running were no longer significant.37 This implies that CRF mediates the relationship between running and reduced mortality. This potentially causal pathway is supported by previous findings indicating that CRF could be the strongest predictor of mortality.26 CRF has also been associated with increased gray matter volume in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which could have important implications for neurological disease-related mortality.38

A meta-analysis of 49 randomized, controlled trials (RCTs), conducted in 2,024 adults, found that running interventions, compared with inactive control groups, produced improvements in body composition, CRF, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), particularly with training durations greater than 1 year.39 Also, vigorous-intensity PA confers equal, if not greater, benefits than low- or moderate-intensity PA on BP (particularly diastolic BP), HDL-C, blood glucose control, insulin sensitivity, and CRF.28 Running may further improve certain CVD risk factors, such as adiposity and CRF, even after it is matched on energy expenditure with other types of vigorous-intensity PA.18 This may indicate that there is something inherent to running that is uniquely advantageous with regard to various health indicators.


There has also been growing interest in examining the effects of intermittent, high- intensity interval exercise versus traditional, continuous exercise prescriptions.40 RCTs conducted in various populations, including CVD patients and obese individuals, have found that short duration, high-intensity interval training (typically cycling) produces similar improvements in body composition, blood lipids, insulin sensitivity, and CRF as continuous moderate-intensity exercise, but with significantly shorter exercise durations.40–42 There is also research in healthy individuals suggesting that interval running is just as effective as continuous running for some CVD risk factors, but with less than a third of the time commitment.43 Further research into the effects of interval running in deconditioned and/or patient populations is warranted, especially given that novice exercisers are often told to begin a walking-jogging program consisting of short bouts of jogging interspersed with walking.

Is Running Better than Other Types of PA for Longevity?

One of the most commonly asked questions regarding PA and health is simply, “What type of exercise or PA is the best for health?” Likewise, because running is so popular and convenient, people are often curious about whether or not running is better than other types of exercise or PA. We conducted a simple joint stratification analysis to address this question using the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS) data. We dichotomized both leisure-time running and other PA except running into two categories to simplify the complicated joint associations on mortality as well as to preserve adequate statistical power (Fig. 4). Individuals who were not runners and did not meet recommended guidelines (≥500 MET-min/week) through other PA (“Non-Runners” and “Inactive”) were the reference group. Runners who did not meet recommended guidelines of other non-running PA (“Runners” and “Inactive”) had 30% lower risk of all-cause mortality (sole benefits of running). Non-runners who accumulated ≥500 MET- min/week of other PA except running (“Non-Runners” and “Active”) had only a 12% lower risk of death (sole benefits of other PA except running). When we directly compared these two groups (running vs. other PA), we found that runners who were inactive in other PA had a 27% lower risk of death (HR=0.73; 95% CI=0.65-0.84) versus non-runners who were active in other PA. These results suggest that running may possibly provide a larger mortality benefit than other types of PA in this relatively healthy and mostly non-Hispanic white population although further investigation using objective measures of running and PA is needed.

Figure 4 – Hazard ratios of all-cause mortality by combinations of participating in running and/or other PA except running. The analysis was adjusted for baseline age, sex, examination year, smoking status, alcohol consumption, and parental history of cardiovascular disease. The number of participants (number of deaths) was 24,876 (2,248) in Inactive Non-Runners; 17,245 (609) in Active Non-Runners; 9,023 (525) in Inactive Runners; and 3,993 (31) in Active Runners. “Active” was defined as meeting the 2008 US PA Guidelines (≥500 MET-min/week) by participating in other aerobic PA except running (such as cycling, swimming, walking, basketball, racquet sports, aerobic dance, and other sports-related activities) whereas being labeled a “Runner” was defined as participating in any amount of running, whether above or below recommended PA guidelines. These results are from 55,137 men and women, aged 18- 100 years (mean age 44).

However, as expected, the greatest mortality benefit, a 43% lower risk of death, was observed in runners who were also active in other PA (“Runners” and “Active”). Therefore, to get the maximal mortality benefits, participating in both running and other various PA is the best choice. For most inactive individuals, however, starting with light or moderate-intensity PA, such as brisk walking and adding vigorous-intensity PA such as running or other individually preferable PA later would be safe, attainable, and still beneficial for health and fitness, as recommended by the US and WHO PA guidelines.6,7

Another cohort study examined different types of exercise separately while adjusting for all other activities and potential confounders using the data of 44,551 men aged 40-75 years at baseline from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.44 Among various vigorous-intensity exercises and sports including running, cycling, swimming, tennis, rowing, racquetball, and moderate-intensity brisk walking, the authors found that only running, tennis, and brisk walking were inversely associated with CVD risk. In particular, men in the highest PA category (≥5 hours/week) of each running, tennis, and brisk walking had a 46%, 28%, and 23% lower CVD risk, respectively, compared with men not participating in each PA, implying running’s superiority for CVD prevention. Conversely, another study from over 80,000 British men and women (mean age 52 years) reported a significant risk reduction in CVD and all-cause mortality only for swimming, racquet sports, and aerobics, but not for running, cycling, and football.19 One possible explanation for the non-significant results associated with running (HR=0.87, 95% CI=0.68-1.11 for all-cause mortality and HR=0.81, 95% CI=0.47-1.39 for CVD mortality) was the low statistical power from the relatively low number of mortality events (68 deaths from any cause and 13 deaths from CVD). These mixed results, however, make it difficult to conclude the relative importance between running and other PA, thus more research is required.

Another comparison is often drawn between running versus walking on health. In a recent large cohort of over 400,000 Taiwanese individuals, researchers found that 5-min and 25-min runs generated the same mortality benefits as 15-min and 105-min walks, respectively, with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:4.45 This notable finding confirms that running is more time efficient and could therefore be a better choice for busy, yet healthy individuals. However, because walking is usually safer and easier to start and sustain, the choice between running and walking should be made not only based on time efficiency, but also individual lifestyle, CRF level, health conditions, and personal preferences.

How Much Longer Can Runners Live?

Most cohort studies automatically adjust for age in their analyses, but data from age-group separated analyses indicate that morality outcomes are not only similar among young (<50 years) and old (≥50 years) runners, but that longevity benefits are clearly the greatest among those who continue to run throughout their lives.17,19 Unfortunately, running participation declines with age. Twenty to 30% of 18-29 year olds indicate that they run or jog in their free time. Running participation continues to decline 5-10% each decade, and less than 2% of people continue to run past 65 years of age.12

Calculating life expectancy from self-reported running is complex and often follows various statistical approaches. Nevertheless, life expectancy is a metric that is easy to understand and could convey a powerful public health message. We found that runners had a 3.2 years longer life expectancy, compared with non-runners, based on a survival analysis from the ACLS cohort.17 We used a conservative approach in this life expectancy estimation by adjusting for a comprehensive set of confounders, including baseline age, sex, examination year, parental history of CVD, lifestyle factors (current smoking, overweight/obesity), and medical conditions (abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG), HTN, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia). Research from the Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS) also found 2.6 and 3.1 years of increased survival in male and female joggers, respectively, compared with non-joggers, based on a survival analysis after adjusting for a similar set of confounders and mediators (i.e., medical conditions).22

The increased longevity among runners is similar to that observed in other, more broadly categorized types of PA. In an Asian sample of over 400,000 individuals, life expectancy at age 30 was 4.2 years longer for men and 3.7 years longer for women in those who performed ≥150 min/week of moderate-intensity PA compared with inactive individuals without statistical adjustment for confounders.46 At age 60, the extended life expectancy among active adults was 3.5 years in men and 3.6 years in women. Thus, the longevity benefits decreased slightly with age, but remained similar, possibly indicating that even fewer years of exercise, perhaps from a late start in life, provided comparable longevity benefits.

Another investigation conducted a pooled analysis of six cohort studies with over 650,000 participants from Western populations. The average gain in life expectancy after age 40 was 3.4 years among individuals who met the minimum recommended PA (equivalent to 150-299 min/week of brisk walking) relative to those with no leisure-time PA after controlling for potential confounders.47 Moreover, the gain in life expectancy was 4.2 years among those who performed two times the minimum recommended PA (equivalent to 300-449 min/week of brisk walking). The association between PA and life expectancy was similar between men and women and was evident at every BMI level, educational status, race/ethnicity, smoking status, and comorbid conditions. Performing even half of the PA, 75 min/week of PA, was associated with a gain of 1.8 years in life expectancy, compared with no activity. The statistical methods used to estimate life expectancy are different between studies, but the consensus is that runners have an approximately 3 years longer life expectancy, compared with non-runners, irrespective of sex, race/ethnicity, and body weight. This increase in life expectancy of 3 years is consistent with other PA studies.

One could argue that runners, or active people in general, live longer by the same amount of time they have run or exercised throughout their lives, and that running and exercise may not actually be worthwhile because the longevity bonus is negated by the equivalent amount of time spent exercising. This argument collapses by simply estimating the numbers. Using 150 min/week (2.5 hours/week) of exercise based on the current PA guidelines, the total years of exercise time from the age of 30 to 80 years is only 0.74 years (2.5 hours/week X 52 weeks X 50 years=6,500 hours, divided by 8,760 hours/year). In our running study, the average reported running time was approximately 120 min/week among runners, aged 44 years at baseline. In this case, the total running time from the age of 44 to 80 years was 0.43 years, based on the same calculation. Running still provides 2.8 years of additional life even after subtracting the total running time of 0.43 years from the 3.2 years of extended life among runners found from the ACLS cohort. Therefore, a net “running” to “longevity benefit” ratio is roughly 1:7 (0.43:2.8), suggesting 1 hour of running provides an additional 7 hours of extended life. It is controversial whether progressively more running provides further mortality benefits, but running certainly provides cost-effective longevity benefits. It is also noteworthy that there are several other benefits of regular PA such as enhanced quality of life and improved physical and cognitive function in later life.31,48

Is There Too Much Running for Longevity?

Some recent studies suggest that excessive endurance exercise (EEE), such as habitual running, may cause adverse effects on cardiac structure and function.27,49–53 Some postulated mechanisms linking EEE to potential adverse cardiac effects include increased vascular oxidative stress and inflammation, myocardial fibrosis, and structural changes in the heart and its autonomic control.50,54–56 A study on 52,755 participants in the Vasaloppet 90 km cross-country ski marathon found that those who had completed more races than infrequent participants had a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation over 10-years of follow-up although more dangerous arrhythmias such as ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation/cardiac arrest were not associated.57 Similar results on adverse cardiac effects of EEE were also reported in other studies.58–60 We observed a slightly higher prevalence of abnormal ECG in the highest running group compared with low-to-moderate running groups (Fig. 5), although not statistically different. We also observed that runners with higher weekly running times of ≥81 min/week had a significantly higher prevalence of parental history of CVD, compared with runners running 1-80 min/week (p<0.05).


Figure 5 – Prevalence of parental history of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) (A) and abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) (B) by weekly running time (Adapted from Lee DC et al.17).

However, these two factors, an abnormal ECG and a family history of CVD, could also serve as motivators for some people to engage in greater amounts of running to prevent CVD events. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether strenuous running may cause abnormal ECG or whether strenuous runners do not get further mortality benefits because they have a family history of CVD from this cross-sectional observation.

Prevalence of Prevalence of abnormal ECG (%) parental CVD (%)


We found in another examination that only coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths, unlike other causes of death, were relatively greater with higher doses of running (a reverse J-shaped association; Fig. 6). This association between running and CHD may mostly explain the reverse J-shaped curve between running and all-cause mortality.51,61 This finding is consistent with the previous suggestion of the potential adverse effect of EEE, specifically on CVD outcomes. However, the associations of running with other causes of death are not reverse J-shaped, but are more L-shaped, suggesting no increased likelihood of adverse effects, but rather consistent mortality benefits from increased running on various health outcomes such as cancer and stroke.


Causes of Death by Weekly Running Time (min)

Figure 6 – Death rate for major causes of death by weekly running time. Participants are classified into non-runners and four quartiles of weekly running time. Death rates are adjusted for baseline age, sex, and examination year. Causes of death are divided into all- cause, cancer, CHD, stroke, other CVD except CHD and stroke, chronic respiratory (lung) disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza, and Alzheimer disease. CHD=coronary heart disease, CVD=cardiovascular disease (Adapted from Lee et al.52).

We compared three well-known running studies to answer the question of whether more running is better or worse for longevity.62 All studies indicated significant mortality benefits with light-to-moderate running compared with no running. These benefits were lost at the highest dose of running suggesting that more running may not be better for longevity and raises the possibility that “more could be worse” for CVD and all-cause mortality. Nevertheless, all three studies indicated no significantly increased risk of mortality, even at the highest dose of running compared with no running. Therefore, more running is not necessarily worse, although there may be no further mortality benefits in excessive running.

Comparing the highest running dose to the lower running dose, two relatively small studies revealed that the highest running dose was associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality. Our study, however, with the largest sample size with over 55,000 adults demonstrated no increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality even in the highest running group (e.g., ≥4.5 hours/week) compared with the light running group (e.g., <51 min/week). This was consistent in men and women, the young and old individuals, and slow and fast runners. There are other observational studies showing greater CVD benefits at higher doses of running with a linear trend in different populations.44,63 Therefore, well-controlled, intervention studies are certainly needed to address the controversial issue as to whether or not large doses of running further reduce or actually increase the risk of developing CVD, particularly CHD, risk factors and biomarkers.


Recommended Upper Limit of Running

≤4.5 hours/week ≤30 miles/week ≤6 times/week ≤50 MET-hours/week

Concern about the possibility of increased CHD events with high doses of running applies only to a small number of individuals and should not obviate the observation that running and other PA even below the current minimum PA guidelines can significantly reduce premature mortality.16,17,46,47,64

Potential Upper Threshold for Longevity Benefits of Running

It is too early to conclude that large amounts of running have adverse health effects. There is benefit in providing a cut point for an effective and safe amount of running as a guide. We used the ACLS data62 to identify potential upper limits of running beyond which additional running provided no further mortality benefits, although there was also no excess risk of harm (Table 1).

Table 1 – Recommended upper limit of running doses for longevity benefitsa.

a Results from 55,137 men and women from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (Adapted from Lee et al.62).

These potential benefit thresholds are similar to findings from other large cohort studies on the dose-response relationships between PA and mortality. Findings from the US National Cancer Institute Cohort Consortium of over 660,000 men and women indicated a benefit threshold at approximately 40 MET-hours/week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic PA beyond which no additional mortality benefits were found.65 This study also found no significant harm or risk beyond this threshold compared with inactivity. Another study of 1.1 million British women observed that those reporting strenuous PA such as running up to 6 times/week had progressive CHD risk reduction compared with inactive women.66 There was, however, no further decrease in risk with daily strenuous PA beyond this level, suggesting ≤6 times/week as the upper benefit threshold. This aligns with our upper threshold for running frequency. Another study also observed a reverse J-shaped association between running or walking and all-cause and CVD mortality in 2,377 heart attack survivors.51

Running or walking progressively decreased CVD mortality risk at most exercise levels, but this benefit was attenuated at the highest exercise levels of >50 MET-hours/week, the equivalent to running >30 miles/week or walking briskly >47 miles/week. This again is similar to the upper limit of benefit from running found in our study. The CCHS of 5,048 relatively healthy adults observed a similar reverse J-shaped association between jogging and all-cause mortality, suggesting the loss of mortality benefits even in moderate joggers (e.g., ≥4 times/week or ≥2.5 hours/week) compared with sedentary non-joggers.16 The relatively lower longevity threshold in this study (<4 times/week or <2.5 hours/week) compared with ours (<6 times/week or <4.5 hours/week) is partly due to the small numbers of deaths (n=8) among moderate joggers.

Another review study found that most studies have reported significant all-cause or CVD mortality benefits of vigorous-intensity exercise up to 50 MET-hours/week, although maximum benefits were already achieved at lower exercise doses.64 All of these data support the possible benefit threshold that we identified wherein further running may not provide additional longevity benefits, although most studies indicate no harm or excess risk of mortality even at the extreme amount of running or aerobic exercise. These findings, however, question the current, overarching PA paradigm of “the more, the better” and may help shift the focus toward promoting the benefits of even small amounts of PA to reduce sedentary (sitting) time, which is an emerging health hazard in most developed countries.

Whether or not there is an upper threshold for the benefits of running and PA will remain controversial, and any conclusions on a longevity benefit threshold should be interpreted with caution, since most results are generated from self-reported behaviors in largely western populations. More objective measures of running such as accelerometry will be helpful to determine accurately the ideal amount of running for health. The above recommended upper limits of running are much higher than achievable by most people. It is also important to mention the increased risk of musculoskeletal injury with increasing weekly running time and distance.67,68 Nearly 70 percent of serious runners become injured during a one year period,69 and high rates of injury in the highest running categories could potentially impact mortality outcomes, although no data are currently available.


There is compelling evidence that running provides significant health benefits for the prevention of chronic diseases and premature mortality regardless of sex, age, body weight, and health conditions. There are strong plausible physiological mechanisms underlying how running can improve health and increase longevity. Running may be the most cost-effective lifestyle medicine from public health perspective, more important than other lifestyle and health risk factors such as smoking, obesity, HTN, and DM. It is not clear, however, how much running is safe and efficacious and whether it is possible to perform an excessive amount of exercise. Also, running may have the most public health benefits, but is not the best exercise for everyone since orthopedic or other medical conditions can restrict its use by many individuals.


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Exercise key to fight Inflammation and Aging

The best way to stay young really might be to keep moving. Research has shown physical activity can reduce inflammation in your body and improve heart health—both important for staying young beyond your years.

Aging results in chronic low grade inflammation that is associated with increased risk for disease, poor physical functioning and mortality. Strategies that reduce age-related inflammation improve the quality of life in older adults (1).

Regular exercise is recommended for older people for a variety of reasons including increasing muscle mass and reducing risk for chronic diseases of the heart and metabolic systems (2).

Increased lifespan

This recent study found that 4 hours of running per week increased average lifespan by 3 years.  Surprisingly, time spent running added more time that it took to run, with  each hour running adding  7 hours on average.

After 4 hours per week, no further improvements in life expectancy were noted (r).

NEWS: This recently published study compares High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with resistance training and combined weights/cardio training. It found HIIT to be far more effective, particularly for older humans.

In some cases, the high-intensity regimen actually seemed to reverse the age-related decline in both mitochondrial function and muscle-building proteins.

Read more about this study and HIIT

 Exercise reduces Chronic Inflammation

Only recently has exercise been examined in the context of inflammation, but these recent studies show that extended exercise programs generally reduce markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein over the long-term:

  • In elderly Japanese women, a 12-week resistance training program reduced circulating levels of inflammatory markers compared to baseline; reductions in CRP were associated with increases in muscle thickness.
  • American adults who engaged in frequent physical activity tended to have lower CRPs than adults who were more sedentary.
  • In type 2 diabetics, (key term coming up) long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic training reduced inflammatory markers over the course of a year (independent of changes in body weight, meaning activity was the key factor).
  • Endurance combined with resistance training reduced CRP in young, healthy women better than endurance training alone.
  • In obese, post-menopausal women, a basic moderate cardio program lowered CRP without really affecting body weight either way over the course of a year.
  • At the same time, though, several studies also show that exercise acutely spikes inflammatory markers:
  • Volleyball practice elicits spikes in IL-6 in both male and female elite volleyball players.
  • Acute exercise spiked CRP in cardiovascular disease patients (but a four-month exercise program lowered it).
  • This table of inflammatory responses to strenuous endurance events shows some massive spikes in CRP, some up to 20-fold the baseline value.

Conclusion: regular exercise tends to lower markers of systemic inflammation.

 Exercise Can Increase Your Energy Levels

Senior Couple Biking Together
Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions (1718).

One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported persistent fatigue (19).

Furthermore, exercise can significantly increase energy levels for people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other serious illnesses (2021).

In fact, exercise seems to be more effective at combating CFS than other treatments, including passive therapies like relaxation and stretching, or no treatment at all (20).

Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people suffering from progressive illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis (21).

Summary: Engaging in regular physical activity can increase your energy levels. This is true even in people with persistent fatigue and those suffering from serious illnesses.

Exercise Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease (22).

Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, yet decrease blood pressure and blood fat levels (23242526).

Therefore, daily physical activity is recommended to reduce belly fat and decrease the risk of developing these diseases (2728).

Summary: Daily physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

 It Can Help With Relaxation and Sleep Quality

Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better (3738).

In regards to sleep quality, the energy depletion that occurs during exercise stimulates recuperative processes during sleep (38).

Moreover, the increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is thought to improve sleep quality by helping it drop during sleep (39).

One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality (40).

Another showed that 16 weeks of physical activity increased sleep quality and helped 17 people with insomnia sleep longer and more deeply than the control group. It also helped them feel more energized during the day (41).

What’s more, engaging in regular exercise seems to be beneficial for the elderly, who tend to be affected by sleep disorders (414243).

You can be flexible with the kind of exercise you choose. It appears that either aerobic exercise alone or aerobic exercise combined with resistance training can equally help sleep quality (44).

Summary: Regular physical activity, regardless of whether it is aerobic or a combination of aerobic and resistance training, can help you sleep better and feel more energized during the day.

 Exercise Can Reduce Pain

Chronic pain can be debilitating, but exercise can actually help reduce it (45).

In fact, for many years, the recommendation for treating chronic pain was rest and inactivity. However, recent studies show that exercise helps relieve chronic pain (45).

A review of several studies indicates that exercise helps participants with chronic pain reduce their pain and improve their quality of life (45).

Several studies show that exercise can help control pain that’s associated with various health conditions, including chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia and chronic soft tissue shoulder disorder, to name a few (46).

Additionally, physical activity can also raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception (4748).

Summary: Exercise has favorable effects on the pain that’s associated with various conditions. It can also increase pain tolerance.

It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory

Human Brain on White Background

Exercise can improve brain function and protect memory and thinking skills.

To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain.

Moreover, the ability of exercise to prevent chronic disease can translate into benefits for your brain, since its function can be affected by these diseases (32).

Regular physical activity is especially important in older adults since aging — combined with oxidative stress and inflammation — promotes changes in brain structure and function (3334).

Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s vital for memory and learning, to grow in size. This serves to increase mental function in older adults (333435).

Lastly, exercise has been shown to reduce changes in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia (36).

Summary: Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain and helps brain health and memory. Among older adults, it can help protect mental function.

It Can Help Skin Health

Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body.

Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin.

Even though intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage, regular moderate exercise can increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which help protect cells (2930).

In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging (31).

Summary: Moderate exercise can provide antioxidant protection and promote blood flow, which can protect your skin and delay signs of aging.

Dieting Increases Appetite More than Exercising

There are two basic weight loss methods: diet and exercise. When used separately, it’s unclear how these methods affect appetite.

For this reason, a team of scientists examined how diet and exercise affect appetite. Their results were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Losing weight is hard. This is because your body doesn’t really want to lose weight, and uses several tricks to prevent this from happening.

One of them is to increase appetite and cravings to compensate for any lost weight.

However, previous studies suggest that losing weight by exercising may increase appetite and calorie intake less than dieting.

Several studies have also shown that calories lost via exercise are not completely restored by increased calorie intake afterward (123).

On the other hand, dieting seems to have much stronger effects on appetite and calorie intake (45).

Article Reviewed

A group of scientists compared the effects of calorie depletion by dieting or exercising on appetite and calorie intake.

Energy depletion by diet or aerobic exercise alone: impact of energy deficit modality on appetite parameters.

Study Design

The purpose of this small, randomized, crossover study was to examine the effects of dieting or exercising on appetite, appetite hormones and food intake.

A total of 10 healthy, young and relatively fit men participated in the study.

The study started with a control period, during which the participants followed a standardized diet for three days.

The participants were then assigned to two groups in a random order:

  • Dieting: During this three-day, calorie-reduced diet, the participants consumed 25% fewer calories than they needed to maintain stable body weight.
  • Exercising: For three days, the participants did aerobic exercise. The amount of exercise was carefully adjusted so that the participants would burn 25% of the calories they needed to maintain stable body weight.

Since this trial had a crossover design, all participants exercised and dieted on different occasions, separated by a 2-week washout period.

At the beginning and end of each of the three study periods, the researchers measured appetite hormones (ghrelin and leptin). Calorie intake and appetite were measured only at the end of each of the three study periods.

Bottom Line: This was a randomized, crossover study comparing the effects of dieting and exercising on appetite and calorie intake.

Finding 1: Dieting Promoted Greater Calorie Intake

Calorie intake increased significantly more after dieting, compared to exercising.

It was measured at a 30-minute buffet at the end of each of the three study periods. The findings are shown in the chart below.

Bottom Line: Calorie intake was significantly higher at the end of the dieting period, compared to both the control and exercising.

Finding 2: Dieting Led to a Greater Increase in Appetite

Dieting led to greater subjective ratings of appetite, compared to exercising, as assessed with a visual analogue scale (VAS) questionnaire.

Specifically, the ratings of “desire to eat”, “hunger” and “prospective food consumption” (PFC) were significantly higher after dieting.

The chart below shows the differences between groups.

However, there were no significant differences in appetite hormones between groups.

Bottom Line: Subjective ratings of appetite were significantly higher after the dieting period, compared to exercising.


This study appears to have been well designed and implemented. However, a few limitations should be mentioned.

First, it was a small, pilot study with a limited statistical power. Second, the study was of short duration. The long-term effects of dieting and exercising may be different.

Finally, the participants were all young, relatively fit and healthy men. The results might not apply to other groups of people.

Bottom Line: The study’s main limitations were its small size and short duration.

Summary and Real-Life Application

This study showed that if you want to lose weight, dieting may increase appetite more than exercising, resulting in higher calorie intake to make up for the calorie deficit.

However, it would be difficult to imitate this study’s tightly controlled setting in a real-life situation.

Nevertheless, if you want to lose weight, exercise may make a difference.

Best Desk Job Exercises to Help You Cope

So you’re now part of the corporate world. Like many Americans, most of us have desk jobs. This means sitting down in front of a computer for an entire day, maybe even more. Our bums are glued to our chairs, and we hardly move. Many of us think there’s no way there are any desk job exercises.

This can be unhealthy as this is considered a sedentary lifestyle. This means we have irregular or absolutely no physical activity. Having this type of lifestyle can be quite disadvantageous and also has negative consequences.

Luckily, there are many ways for people with desk jobs to inject a bit of movement in their otherwise boring workdays. Your other workmates might find you weird and move away from you, but ultimately, you get the last laugh.

These desk job exercises will improve your fitness levels, boost strength, burn a few calories, and just generally keep you in tip-top shape.


You can always pop over to the restroom for a bit of privacy and more space. You should start stretching from head to toe, beginning with the neck.

First, slowly tilt your head to one shoulder, and then hold for about 10 seconds. Next, tilt to the other shoulder and hold again. You can do maybe 3 repetitions on each side.

Next, target those tense shoulders. Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion. Then go ahead and roll them backward, still in a circular motion.

To make sure your typing is up to speed, make sure to pay attention to your wrists as well. Stretch both arms out with palms facing the floor. Pull your fingers down for about five seconds. Next, pull your fingers up.

For your legs, you can do some quick lunges, around 5 for each leg.

To pull them all in, finish off with some ankle circulations.


The Stair Master

You’ve just arrived at your office building. Instead of going with the rest of the office flock into a crowded elevator, why don’t you take the stairs? This is a great way to elevate your heart rate and get your day started right. As an added bonus, this is a great way to avoid talking to that annoying coworker.

The Office Wanderer

As soon as you arrive at your desk, you generally pull up the tools you need and just sit on your chair, waiting for them to load. What you can do instead is stroll around the floor and catch up with the rest of your office mates. You can even go as far as to visit the other departments in the building and get to know new people.

Or instead of relying on Skype or e-mails to communicate with another employee, why not bring yourself over to them?

Twinkle Toes

When you start feeling restless on your desk, you can alleviate that by speedily tapping your toes under your desk. You can still get your office work done while sneaking in a little bit of cardio.

Jog in Place

If you’re more confident, you can go ahead and jog in place. You can do this for maybe 60 seconds, then get right back to working afterward. Just remember to ignore the stares you’ll probably be getting from nosy coworkers.

Desk Job Exercises for Your Legs and Butt

I Stand for Myself

Who says you have to sit down the entire day? To change it up, try standing up while working on that Excel file. Studies show that long periods of sitting down leads to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. On the other hand, standing up increases the amount of calories you burn.

If your boss calls for a meeting, you can even go ahead and suggest a standing meeting.

The Wall Sit

Start with your back against the wall. Next, bend your knees and slide your back down. Stop sliding when your thighs are parallel to the floor. Sit and hold for around 30-60 seconds. To make it more challenging, try crossing your left ankle over your right now, hold for 10 seconds, then switch.

This is one of the desk job exercises that builds strength and endurance.

Sit and Squeeze

Want to target your glutes without getting any unwanted attention? Then this is the perfect exercise for you. You simply clench your butt muscles, hold for 5-10 seconds, and then release. Repeat until you can clench no more. Trust me, the results will be uplifting, to say the least.

The Seated Leg Raise

Here’s another one of the desk job exercises that won’t be noticed by anyone. While in your seat, completely straighten out both legs and hold for 5-10 seconds. Next, lower the legs back to the ground, but make sure they don’t touch the floor. You can do around 15 repetitions.

Desk Job Exercises for Your Shoulders and Arms

Do the Desk Dip

If you’ve had too much sitting around, go ahead and to an improvised tricep dip. You can use your desk for leverage. Place your hands at the edge of the desk. Make sure you’re facing away from the desk. Next, place your feet a step or two away from the desk. Start by bending your elbows at a ninety-degree angle and your body dips down. Hold for about 5 seconds, then get back up. Do around 10 instances.

Desk Push-Ups

Again using your desk, you can do standing desk push-ups. Perform around 3 sets of 10 and feel the burn.

The Cubicle Curl

For this exercise, grab anything that’s a bit heavy. A filled water bottle is a good idea. You can use this like a regular dumbbell and do regular bicep curls.

The Fist Pump

Channel your inner frat boy and do fist pumps. Do around 60 seconds of fist-pumping action on each arm. This is great to do when your boss gives out some good news. Keep in mind that as you do these fist pumps, you’re not at a frat party. So shouting out “Chug it down!” may not be a good idea.

The Office Genie

You need a sturdy office chair that can hold up your weight. Sit down cross-legged on your chair. Place both hands on either armrest. Next, push upward to raise your body off the seat. Hold this pose for around 10-20 seconds. Afterward, sit back down on the chair, rest for a few seconds, and repeat.

Desk Job Exercises for Your Core

The Desk Chair Swivel

Obviously, swivel chairs are needed for this. Sit upright with your feet hovering over the floor. Next, hold on to the edge of your desk with your fingers. Then go ahead and use your core to swivel the chair from side to side. Swing back and forth for 20 counts.

The Fab Abs Squeeze

The last of the desk job exercises. You can do this while typing away your reports. Sit on your chair with your back straight. Next, take a super deep breath, tighten those abdominal muscles, and hold it in for about 10 seconds. As you exhale, make sure to also bring the muscles in  toward the spine. Repeat 10 times.

Best High Intensity Interval Training workouts for Longevity

High-intensity interval training , also called HIIT workouts, have become known in the fitness and medical world as one of the most effective means of improving cardiovascular health, respiratory endurance, as well as metabolic function.

HIIT workouts are known to be an excellent way to burn fat in a short period of time and to help improve the physical performance of athletes of all kinds. (1)

For most people, because it’s one of the great metabolism boosters, the biggest draw to a HIIT workout is its ability to keep the body burning fat even after the workout is over.

What Are HIIT Workouts?

High-intensity interval training is a type of exercise that involves repeated short bouts of high-intensity, or “burst” exercises, followed by brief recovery periods. This sequence is repeated several times in a row usually for a duration between 20–30 minutes.

Considering the fact that many people use “not having enough time” as a popular reason to avoid regularly exercising, HIIT workouts are one of the best ways to overcome this block and get great results fast.

A HIIT protocol is a well-researched way to reap physical benefits as an alternative approach to steady-state exercise training but with less of a time commitment. (2)

For example, recently a study compared the impact of two different types of exercise training on body fat and muscle metabolism: HIIT workouts versus steady-state exercise.

The study investigated the effects of calorie expenditure and fat loss in young adults and found that although HIIT workouts actually burned fewer calories during the actual workouts than did steady-state cardio exercise (likely due to its shorter duration), the HIIT program produced more fat loss than steady-state exercise did overall.

Additionally, the study concluded that while the HIIT workout helped build muscle, the steady-state workouts actually broke muscle down. Researchers concluded that not only does HIIT burn more fat over the duration of the day, but it also builds more muscle and improves metabolic function. (3)

How to Perform HIIT Workouts … and Why

The exact type of exercise performed during the “intense” internal periods can vary, such as performing sprints or doing faster reps of a particular move. What stays the same throughout different types of HIIT programs? The act of performing these stop-and-go intervals, meaning alternating between periods of hard “work” and “rest” or recovery.

A popular example of a HIIT workout can be running on the treadmill, alternating between a very fast pace and one that is easier and slower. In order to follow an interval schedule, you switch between sprints that require roughly 90 percent of your energy, followed by walking or slowly jogging to rest and recover.

Steady-state exercises, on the other hand, usually stay within the same type of “work” zone over time, with the amount of effort needed remaining consistent. (4)

HIIT Workouts Provide Benefits Fast

HIIT workouts have the ability to transform your body and physical abilities due to their effect on at least three important systems within the body:

  1. Your cardiovascular health and endurance
  2. Your body’s ability to use oxygen
  3. Your hormone levels

Studies have shown that resistance-based interval training specifically benefits blood flow and blood vessel dilation. A study, published in the American Journal of Physiology — Heart and Circulatory Physiology, found that resistance-based interval exercising improved endothelial function in individuals that previously exercised, those that didn’t and those with type 2 diabetes.

When researchers measured blood flow before, immediately following and at one and two hours after working out, participants with type 2 diabetes saw improvements at each time. The other two participant groups experienced improvements one and/or two hours after exercising. (5)

 HIIT Workouts Boost Cardiovascular Health 

Many studies are now showing that internal training — including HIIT workouts — promote greater improvements in VO2max and general fitness abilities than steady-state exercises do.

In fact, VO2max is considered the best indicator of cardiovascular endurance. This is the measurement most commonly used in fitness studies to show the effects that the exercise is having on the body. VO2 max is sometimes also called “max oxygen uptake” or “max aerobic activity” and is used to measure how well the body can use oxygen for energy.

Specifically, VO2max is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen (in milliliters) that a person can use in one minute per kilogram of their body weight. This measurement is important because the amount of oxygen that a person can utilize within one minute is an indicator of their overall fitness level and also their lung and heart health.

Due to the expansion of blood volume, the heart will undergo enlarging, or “hypertrophy,” during HIIT type of endurance exercises in order to allow the heart muscle to become bigger and stronger. (6)

By pushing your heart rate high during periods of intense work, you’ll be able to increase your cardiovascular ability and strengthen your heart. During the short rest intervals, you work on recovering more quickly and needing less time to rest. This is how you build stamina over time and increase your ability to perform physical exercises more effectively.

Performing short recovery segments in between the intervals where you’re working harder has the benefit of allowing you to keep the overall workout intensity high while still maintaining form.

While it’s hard to work very hard and maintain a high heart rate for an extended period of time because your body isn’t able to bring in enough oxygen, the rest/recovery periods of interval training allow you to catch your breath and for your heart rate to come down momentarily.

Knowing your VO2 max can help you to establish fitness goals to work towards and gives you a starting point as to how capable you are of maintaining a high level of effort over a period of time.

HIIT Workouts Trigger an Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen (EPOC) Effect

HIIT workouts also trigger something known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or “EPOC.” EPOC is the phenomenon of an increased rate of oxygen that your body uses following strenuous activity (7).

Your body uses more oxygen after hard workouts like those performed during HIIT because it’s making up for the body’s “oxygen deficit” that occurred during the difficult “burst” periods of the exercise. EPOC has many functions for the body, including that following a HIIT workout, your body goes into a recovery phase.

A higher level of oxygen is needed during recovery in order to facilitate in the restoration of hormone levels, refueling your glucose stores, and repairing your muscle fibers and tissue.

The best part about EPOC? It’s accompanied by an elevated need for bodily “fuel” or energy in addition to more oxygen. After intense exercise, fat stores within your body are actually broken down and free fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. During the post-workout recovery phase, these free fatty acids become oxidized and your body uses them for energy.

As your body uses more oxygen to bring itself back into a resting state, more calories are burned in the process, even while you are done working out. This means you continue to experience benefits and fat loss during the remainder of your day following a HIIT workout.

Another benefit of EPOC that results from HIIT workouts? New ATP (adenosine triphosphate) — which is the fuel source or energy that your body works off of — is also synthesized. Additionally, post-exercise oxygen is used to reduce lactic acid.

Lactic acid is formed during exercise and is responsible for giving you the “burning” feeling in your muscles when they are working hard.

Lactic acid travels via the bloodstream to the kidneys, cardiac muscle and liver during workouts; then an increased amount of oxygen is necessary to convert the lactic acid back to pyruvic acid so that your pain subsides and body enters a resting state.

Yet another use of EPOC is to fuel the body’s increased metabolism that results from the increase in body temperature experienced during exercise. Due to all of these vital tasks that the body must undergo during a period of EPOC, you can see why HIIT workouts have such a huge effect on your strength, stamina and health.

HIIT Workouts Release Muscle-Growth and Fat-Burning Hormones

Intense interval training circuits also stimulate muscle-building hormones while simultaneously using up calories and burning fat. The body produces the growth hormone known as IGF-1 during HIIT, for example, which allows the body to build lean mass muscle.

Who Are HIIT Workouts For?

Certain studies have shown that high-intensity exercise can be potentially unsafe for sedentary middle-aged adults. It’s best performed by those who are already somewhat active and have a healthy cardiovascular system.

That being said, anyone can work towards practicing HIIT workouts for their multiple benefits. However, if you aren’t already exercising, then it’s best to start slowly to avoid injury or more serious problems.

In conclusion, an exercise plan that includes consistent high-intensity interval exercise has been shown to improve body composition, boost cardio-metabolic health, lessen the risk for heart disease, and help improve exercise tolerance, even in obese and overweight participants. (8)

Research has shown that HIIT workouts are safe, efficient, well-tolerated and could help to improve adherence to exercise training given the limited time commitment that they require.

As long as you practice HIIT workouts responsibly and ease your way into a HIIT program, you can experience great results using HIIT workouts in combination with other forms of exercise that you enjoy.

How to Build Your Own HIIT Workout

No matter what your exercise preference is — whether running, biking, swimming or lifting weights, for example — you can practice HIIT workouts to improve your abilities. Even seasoned athletes use HIIT workouts to gain stamina and bust through plateaus that they are experiencing after practicing one particular type of exercise for a long time.

HIIT workouts are a great way to “shock” your muscles and to kick your body into high gear, allowing you to continue experiencing results and improvements after your body has gotten accustomed to your usual workout routine.

According to studies, it’s believed that an optimal HIIT workout produces maximum cardiovascular benefits when athletes spend at least several minutes per session in their “red zone” — yhis generally means reaching at least 90 percent of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).

In order to estimate when you are working at 90 percent of your VO2max, you can think about your level of perceived effort on a 1–10 scale; you should be aiming to give it “your all” and reach a score of nine out of a possible 10 for at least a few minutes during a 20–30 minute HIIT workout. (10)

In addition to focusing on your perceived level of effort and targeting a high VO2max, there are also other variables to consider.

Keep these physiological variables in mind, which researchers have noted are all-important for practicing HIIT workouts and continuing to show improvements:

  • The amount of time you spent in your “intense” working interval 

The longer you spend in your intense zone, the more of an effect the exercise will have. Start off with shorter bursts of intense periods and increase the duration as you build strength and stamina.

  • The amount of time you spent in your “rest” and recovery interval 

You will likely notice that you need less time to recover as your body adapts to HIIT workouts. Pay attention to how long of rests you are taking and aim to shorten the restful period duration as your abilities improve.

  • The amount of reps you perform during your intense bursts 

Instead of aiming to improve the duration of time you spend in an intense interval, you can also focus on how many reps you are able to do in a row, for example, or your speed of work.

You will likely notice your ability to do reps quickly improves as you become accustomed to HIIT workouts and that you need less recovery time in between sets. You may also notice that your sprints get quicker or your cycling pace gets faster if you choose to run or bike during your HIIT workout.

  • The total number of interval series you are able to perform 

It’s a good idea to start out with about 15–20 minutes of HIIT intervals and work your way up to 25–30 minutes if you’d like. The more your body gets used to the intensity, the more series you’ll be able to perform and your total workout length will increase.

  • The time needed between HIIT workouts 

Most experts recommend practicing HIIT workouts 2–3 times per week, but not much more than this. The body needs an adequate break period between HIIT workouts to fully repair and grow stronger.

In fact, this is just as important as the workout itself and if you fail to properly give yourself enough rest, you miss out on some of the benefits of HIIT.

That being said, you will improve your ability to practice HIIT workouts closer to each other as your recovery periods become shorter. Even after you’ve seen great improvements, it’s still best to allow 48 hours in between HIIT workouts and avoid practicing them multiple days in a row.


How to do a HIIT workout


Three HIIT Workouts to GET YOU MOVING!

Keeping all of the above factors in mind, you can start practicing HIIT workouts using one of these example plans:

Treadmill Running HIIT Workout 

  1. Start with a warm up by lightly jogging for three minutes.
  2. Next, move into your interval period for about 10 minutes. Each minute you will do 20 seconds of intense work followed by 40 seconds of recovery. (Do this 10 times to start out, and as you become more fit you can increase to 15 minutes and beyond. If you’d like to challenge yourself more, do 30 seconds of intense bursts followed by 30 seconds of rest.)
  3. Cool down with a 3 minute jog.

Cycling HIIT Workout

This cycling interval workout is based on the “tabata” style of exercise, which usually consists of 20 seconds of hard work followed by 10 seconds of rest. In order to do interval training, this same ratio can be used in any other form of exercise as well.

  1. Start by cycling at a restful pace for three minutes to warm up.
  2. Move into your interval period for the next 10 minutes, where you will be cycling as hard as you possibly can for 20 seconds and then resting for 10 seconds. You can use a timer to keep track of the time or count in your head. Repeat this interval schedule 10–20 times depending on your abilities and current fitness level.
  3. Cool down with a slow, restful three minutes of cycling.

Circuit Training HIIT Workout 1

The three exercise moves below will make up your “intense” interval, then performing an easier form of cardio afterwards will make up your “rest” interval.

  1. Perform the following three exercise moves back-to-back according these reps: Start by doing 10 reps of each, then repeat the cycle doing 15 reps of each, then repeat the cycle doing 20 reps of each. Don’t take any breaks until after you’ve gone through all three sets.
  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Jumping Jacks
  • (In place of these 3 moves, you could also try performing fast alternating lunges, push-ups or kettlebell swings.)
  1. After you’ve completed these three sets, do a form of steady-state cardio for about three minutes. This can mean jogging, running in place, hopping on an exercise bike, etc. You want to be working at about half of your ability.

Bonus Advanced HIIT Workout: Circuit Training HIIT Style!

  1. Go through each move described below for an intense 20 seconds, moving very quickly through as many reps as you can perform in 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Then move on to the next move following the same timing. Once you’ve completed each move below, you are done with one intense interval.
  • Push-ups
  • Bodyweight Rows
  • Squats
  • Jumping Rope
  • Burpees
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Running in Place
  • Medicine Ball Chest Passes
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Planks
  1. Rest for two minutes after the circuit is complete. Then go through the entire circuit another two times or until you lose proper form.


Keep it Fresh

Is your exercise routine getting boring or just not providing the same kind of results as it once did? If so, you might wanna look into interval training.It doesn’t matter what you like to do… running, zamba, swimming, spin classes, etc. All you have to do to incorporate interval training is to push it extremely hard for a few minutes, then slow it down or rest for a few minutes (or maybe seconds).

What’s this do? You’re stressing the heck out of your cardiovascular system, that’s what! Why would you want to do that? Your muscles build up something called lactic acid. This acid improves your stamina, energy and strength. So while you’re on the down swing and easy mode (or rest) your body is actually preparing for the next push.

Professional athletes or at least life-long athletes have been using interval training for years. They know it’s the key to getting quick results and constantly improving your athletic ability. But for the general population, it’s still relatively new. Let’s look at why you should incorporate interval training into your routine…

It’s been shown that if you use interval training to its fullest, you can greatly improve your athletic ability. Your body learns to maximize the use of oxygen to gain energy when you need it – much better than if you always maintained the same level of difficulty in an exercise session. As your body learns to process oxygen better, you get stronger. You get faster. You up your game dramatically.

Are You Ready for Interval Training?

Of course, if you’re a beginner who has just started to exercise routinely then you may need to wait a bit before you try to push yourself too hard in interval training. You need to have a solid base level of physical fitness or you’re very likely going to risk injuries. If you don’t have any health conditions, shoot for 30-40 minutes of exercise several times per week at least. When you’ve been doing that and are comfortable with it, aim to get to a heart rate of 220 minus your age. i.e. if you’re 20, then aim for 200. That’s how you can figure your max heart rate.

Start Interval Training

Ok, you’ve been exercising regularly and you’ve established a healthy, strong fitness base. It’s time to up the ante. But don’t do interval training everyday. Your body needs 24/48 hours to fully recover from such intense exercise. Also keep in mind that with interval training, you’ll burn quite a bit more carbs than before. That means you should feed some extra carbs back into your body to refuel and recover. Don’t go crazy, but get a few hundred grams definitely.

Don’t Crash and Burn

When you start doing intervals you want to make sure that you’ll be able to finish. If you’re running, do a strong fast run during the high-intensity portions, but don’t flat out sprint if that means you won’t be able to finish. By being able to finish, we mean two things: You want to be able to finish the last few seconds high-intensity portions with the same speed and strength as the fist few seconds. You also want the last high-intensity portion to be as strong as the first one of the day. Remember it doesn’t have to be an ‘all or nothing’ type of thing. Some research has shown just as good results with medium-intensity portions as high-intensity. Just make sure you’re getting in those short burst of oomph!


High Intensity Interval Training may reverse aging

It’s long been known that physical activity can reduce inflammation in your body and improve heart health.

This study recently published in shows that High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is more effective than weight training or cardio for improving metabolic health, is superior for fighting age related decline, and may yield anti-aging benefits down to the cellular level.

HIIT was found to be even more effective at improving mitochondria biogenesis in older individuals.

“HIIT reversed many age-related differ- ences in the proteome, particularly of mitochondrial proteins in concert with increased mitochondrial pro- tein synthesis.”

“HIIT increased maximal absolute mitochondrial respiration in young (+49%) and older adults (+69%), whereas a significant increase following CT was observed in young (+38%), but not older adults”

“HIIT training in older adults had strong effect sizes in multiple outcomes, including mitochondrial respiration (1.7), aerobic fitness (0.99), insulin sensitivity (0.5)”

“HIIT revealed a more robust increase in gene transcripts than other exercise modalities, particularly in older adults, although little overlap with corresponding individual protein abundance was noted.”

Researchers enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups—either under 30 or over 65.

They took on three different exercise programs that included high-intensity interval biking, strength training with weights, and one that mixed lighter cycling and lifting. Each group completed their plan for 12 weeks.

“Any exercise is better than being sedentary,” said Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, senior author of the study and a diabetes researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. However, Nair noted that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), in particular, is “highly efficient” when it comes to reversing many age-related changes.

Young and old, men and women

For the National Institutes of Health-funded study, Nair and his colleagues enlisted the help of both men and women from two age groups: The “young” volunteers ranged in age from 18 to 30; “older” volunteers ranged in age between 65 and 80. Next, the researchers divided these participants into three mixed-age groups and assigned each a different supervised exercise training program lasting three months.

The high-intensity interval training training group did three days a week of cycling, with high-intensity bouts sandwiched between low-intensity pedaling, and two days a week of moderately difficult treadmill walking.

The strength training group performed repetitions targeting both lower and upper body muscles just two days each week.Finally, the combined training group cycled (less strenuously than the first group) and lifted weights (fewer repetitions than the second group) for a total of five days a week.

There were clear differences, then, in the amount of time different participants spent in the gym.

Before and after each training session, the researchers assessed various aspects of each volunteer’s physiology, including body mass index, quantity of lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity, one indication of diabetes.

The researchers also did routine biopsies of each volunteer’s thigh muscles and performed a biochemical analysis in order to establish a comprehensive fingerprint of the muscle.

Analyzing the gathered data, Nair and his colleagues found that all forms of exercise improved overall fitness, as measured by cardiorespiration, and increased insulin sensitivity, which translates into a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.

Although all exercise helped with musculature, strength training was most effective for building muscle mass and for improving strength, which typically declines with age.

Meanwhile, at the cellular level, high-intensity interval training yielded the biggest benefits.

With HIIT, younger participants saw a 49% increase, while older participants saw a 69% increase in mitochondrial capacity.

Every cell in our bodies contain   mitochondria. They perform as tiny batteries do, producing much-needed energy that powers everything your cells do.

Interval training also improved volunteers’ insulin sensitivity more than other forms of exercise. Drilling down deeper, Nair and his colleagues compared the protein-level data gathered from participants to understand why exercise provided these benefits.

Enhancing your cellular machinery

If we think of the cell as a corporate hierarchy, genes (DNA) are the executives issuing orders to their middle managers: messenger RNA. Tasked with transcribing this order, the RNA turns to ribosomes, which perform a supervisory role by linking amino acids in order to assemble protein molecules. Finally, the proteins, cellular work horses, carry out the task originally dictated by the gene.

“Proteins sustain environmental damage and the damaged proteins have to be … replaced with newly synthesized (produced) proteins,” explained Nair in an email. “With aging in sedentary people, production of many protein molecules decline. … Gradually the quantity of these protein molecules decrease causing functional decline.”

Analyzing the muscle biopsies, the researchers discovered that exercise boosts cellular production of mitochondrial proteins and the proteins responsible for muscle growth.

“Exercise training, especially high intensity interval training, enhanced the machinery (ribosomes) to produce proteins, increased the production of proteins and enhanced protein abundance in muscle,” Nair said.

He said the results also showed that “the substantial increase in mitochondrial function that occurred, especially in the older people, is due to increase in protein abundance of muscle.”

In some cases, the high-intensity regimen actually seemed to reverse the age-related decline in both mitochondrial function and muscle-building proteins.

Exercise’s ability to transform mitochondria could explain why it benefits our health in so many different ways, according to the authors.

Muscle cells, like brain and heart cells, are unusual in that they divide only rarely compared with most cells in the body. Because muscle, brain and heart cells do wear out yet are not easily replaced, the function of all three of these tissues are known to decline with age, noted Nair.

If exercise restores or prevents deterioration of mitochondria and ribosomes in muscle cells, exercise possibly performs the same magic in other tissues, too. And, although it is important simply to understand how exercise impacts the mechanics of cells, these insights may also allow researchers “to develop targeted drugs to achieve some of the benefits that we derive from the exercise in people who cannot exercise,” Nair said.

‘Almost a medicine’

According to Jennifer Trilk, an assistant professor of physiology and exercise science at University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, the new study is comprehensive and supports previous research, combining it all into one paper.

“We cannot have enough studies surrounding this information because of how impactful it is for health,” said Trilk, who was not involved in the research

She explained that if younger people boost mitochondrial function when they’re young, they would be preventing disease, while for an older population, they would also be preventing disease while maintaining skeletal muscle, which wanes in older age.

“Mitochondrial function is important to almost every cell in the human body,” Trilk said. “So when you don’t have mitochondrial function or when you have mitochondrial dysfunction, you have dysfunction of cells, so from a molecular standpoint, you start seeing cellular dysfunction years before you start seeing the global effect, which ends up coming out as symptoms of diseases: diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular disease.”

Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, finds the study to be “a really comprehensive and thorough analysis of human skeletal muscle before and after” adapting to different exercise regimens. Zierath, who did not participate as a researcher in the current study, also appreciated the fact that the authors comprehensively examined the effects on both younger and older participants.

“It teases out some of the training regimes that might be leading to greater effects on what they call mitochondrial fitness,” she said. Compared with the other two exercise programs, interval training “really had a more robust effect” on the machinery of cells, she said.

“It boosted the proteins that are important for mitochondrial function — the oxygen powerhouse of the cells,” Zierath said. “It reversed many of what we call age-related differences in mitochondrial function and oxidative metabolism.”

“Part of what happens with HIIT is, you disturb homeostasis, you exercise at a really high level, and the body needs to cope with that,” she explained.

Even though one program had superior effects, “every single exercise protocol they tested had positive effects,” said Zierath, who is looking forward to future research in this vein.

“Exercise is almost a medicine in some respects,” Zierath said. “It’s never too late to start exercising.”