The increasing popularity of weight training and proliferation of gyms offering extensive free weight training areas is a welcomed development in the health and fitness world. Indeed, the Olympics with it’s close up shots of athletes with chiselled physiques has given, pardon the pun, beef to resistance training programmes. Muscle and its attainment is now seen as a mainstream aspiration and whilst this is to be encouraged it should not be at the exclusion of other popular and beneficial exercise modalities, more specifically, aerobic exercise.
In a world obsessed with image and aesthetics, resistance training and the huge benefits it provides, lean muscle tissue, increased metabolism and sensitivity to insulin to name but a few, we should be careful not to throw the aerobic baby out with the bathwater. For it is clear that aerobic exercise, as more and more research is showing has enormous health benefits that are becoming increasingly relevant in a population that is living longer and therefore becoming more susceptible to ailments associated with old age, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Scientific research is being conducted to determine how exactly aerobic exercise such as running, cycling, swimming etc can aid cognition, improve memory, reduce brain shrinkage and prevent other common Western ailments. Scientists at the Beckham Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois have reported that regular aerobic workouts can improve cognition and intelligence in older adults as well as children. Traditional aerobic modalities, running, brisk walking etc has positive effects on areas of the brain involved in memory and problem solving and conversely there is degeneration in these areas if no aerobic exercise is performed. It is the increased blood flow to the brain and oxygen that is suspected of causing these positive benefits and also by preventing brain shrinkage of the all important grey matter. Another study by scientists at UC Irvine (UCI)* showed that in older adults, 50-85 years, even short bursts of exercise (6 minutes at 70 per cent VO2 max) improved memory even in participants suffering from Alzheimer’s. Even IQ seems to improve with aerobic exercise. A Swedish study found teenage boys performed better in intelligence tests if they were fitter.
Other areas that seem to benefit from aerobic exercise are eyesight and male impotence. Tests done on 41,000 runners in the US found that running reduced the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, whilst also reducing the risk factors for glaucomas. Vigorous aerobic exercise, 30-60 minutes performed 2-3 times per week was shown to assist with male impotence.
No doubt this is all good news to the legions of fans of cardiovascular training and for those who would never go near a weight room. But how much aerobic exercise is needed to illicit some of the above benefits? Many of us will have seen Dr Michael Mosley in his BBC programmes researching the benefits of short bursts of intense exercise and how it can be as, if not more effective than steady state training. The good news is that short duration, interval based training at moderate to high intensities is the most effective at bringing about some of the benefits outlined above, although even a brisk walk can be as effective. Even in a time-poor society there can be no more excuses about not having enough time to exercise!
Moderate to intense interval training can be done on a stationary bike, treadmill, outside in your local park, on a Boris Barclay hire bike, in your home up and down the stairs, using a skipping rope. Combine this with some resistance work using dumbbells and barbells and you’ve covered all your bases. A good old fashioned circuit of weight training and cardiovascular stations would appear, based on the above evidence, to be a good way to ensure all round health and wellbeing.
If you have a tried and tested 10 minute workout that is challenging and suitable for all levels then we would love to hear from you. We will post the best workout on our Facebook page.
* Segal et al. Exercise-Induced Activation Enhances Memory Consolidation in Both Normal Aging and Patients with Anmestic Mild Cognitive Impairment. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. November 2012