Training for old age

If you have read any of my Sierra Star columns, you know that I am passionate about empowering you to enjoy a healthy long life. To that end, I will share with you one of my many quirks. I enjoy reading dense, peer-reviewed research articles. For fun, while I’m watching television, I will poke around professional databases reading random abstracts until something catches my attention. Last week, I read a number of studies on using exercise to improve the rehabilitation process and was pretty excited about the results.

The gist of these studies is that high-intensity interval training seems to improve the rehab outcomes in many age-related surgeries and conditions (hip & knee replacement, cardiac rehab, stroke recovery to name a few).

High-intensity interval training is a buzzword in fitness circles these days and is generally characterized by short bouts of very intense exercise (very intense meaning you’re sweaty and breathing very hard). The idea is that stressing your heart and lungs briefly, but repeatedly, causes your body to make hormonal, chemical and structural changes that improve your fitness and acts as jet fuel to the rehab process, making greater improvements happen more quickly.

In these studies, participants worked with doctors and exercise specialists to determine their target heart rate and, under supervision, achieved that heart rate for one minute, then backed off for several minutes to recover. This process was repeated six times in a session (although the details varied depending upon the study).

Participants’ fitness, following 9-12 weeks of this kind of training, was considerably higher than the control group and, as a result, these people had a more successful recovery from procedures like hip and knee replacements.

If you are rehabbing from an injury or surgical procedure, you may want to talk to your doctor or physical therapist about how to add this kind of training to your recovery plan.

The thing I loved about these studies is how much control it gave to the individual in the healing process; this isn’t a pill or procedure bestowed upon the patient—this is self-empowerment. The cliché that old age isn’t for sissies is a truth that cannot be appreciated until the body (and sometimes the mind) begins to raise the white flag.

Don’t assume that aging means inevitable feebleness or frailty; fight for your health, for your ability to live powerfully and independently. Think about exercise as training for longevity; you must train for a successful old age.