High-intensity heart protection

I’ve written a fair amount about the benefit of high-intensity interval training in the past. These shorter, more rigorous workouts give you more bang for your exercise buck. And they fit quite readily into an already jam-packed schedule.

But they’re also hard. Really hard. So for patients with heart disease, they’ve largely been considered off-limits. Until now, that is.

As part of a recent study, Norwegian researchers assigned 112 heart disease patients to three different 12-week-long exercise programs. One group ran or walked on a treadmill. One group walked uphill outdoors. And a final group received group training.

All of the exercise programs featured 4×4 interval sessions. (That is, four intervals consisting of four minutes of high intensity exercise–defined as reaching 85 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate–followed by three minutes of moderate intensity exercise.)

The researchers measured aerobic fitness improvements according to changes in peak oxygen uptake (VO2max). And they found that VO2max increased by nearly 12 percent for all subjects during the 12-week study period. The benefits were most profound, however, among participants who worked the hardest–hitting over 92 percent of their maximum heart rate–during those high-intensity intervals.

But most importantly? None of these patients–all of whom had either acute coronary syndrome or angina pectoris–suffered any adverse effects. Which means a little hard work won’t kill you after all.

“The higher the better? Interval training intensity in coronary heart disease.” J Sci Med Sport. 2013 Aug 9.