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October 6, 2023 | Health Prepping, Part 2: Interval Training

John Rubino is a former Wall Street financial analyst and author or co-author of five books, including The Money Bubble: What To Do Before It Pops and Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom. He founded the popular financial website DollarCollapse.com in 2004 and sold it in 2022.

This is the second in a series (the first is here) based on the idea that to be cheerfully ungovernable in the coming dark times, first and foremost you have to be healthy. And there are lots of ways (many of which your doctor won’t bother mentioning) to achieve that. At the top of the list is serious exercise, and this is the best way to do it.

Intro to interval training

Once upon a time, a half hour of slow jogging or walking was seen as an acceptable workout. They’re still good, of course. Even modest amounts of exercise offer benefits. But the prize for “optimal” now goes to a different style of workout featuring bursts of serious exertion interspersed with less strenuous activity.

Interval training (named for its alternating fast/slow intervals, also called high-intensity interval training (HIIT)), aims to get the heart rate up to 80% of its maximum, followed by short periods of lower-intensity work. In simple terms, you go fast/hard for a bit, take a break, then go hard again.

Theory and benefits

  • Burns more calories: An intense workout causes tissue damage that your body spends the rest of the day repairing, in the process burning lots of calories.
  • Heart health: A 2022 study found that high-intensity interval training is better than medium-intensity training at improving cardiorespiratory fitness. Ditto for blood pressure and blood sugar.
  • Longevity: From Time Magazine (The Type of Exercise That Helps You Live Longer):

    In a recent study, researchers found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may improve age-related changes in a person’s cells. Researchers measured the body mass index and insulin sensitivity of two groups of older and younger people (between ages 18 to 30, and those from 65 to 80). The people were then split into three groups to try different types of exercise. One group did HIIT with cycling, one group did resistance training by lifting weights and one group did a combination.

    All types of exercise improved people’s levels of fitness and increased their insulin sensitivity. But HIIT benefited people’s cells the most. Researchers found that it improved age-related decline in muscle mitochondria, cellular powerhouses that create energy molecules for cells. HIIT also appeared to increase the production of proteins in cells that are important for normal body function—a process that normally declines during aging.

  • Less Time: An interval workout takes half as long as a jog or a walk, making it easier to squeeze into a busy day.
  • Runners high: Pushing hard for short bursts causes the body to produce natural painkillers/mood enhancers called endorphins. This “runner’s high” sticks around all day after a good workout, literally making you happier.
  • Improved performance: High-intensity intervals force a body to not just repair the resulting damage, but to over-engineer in anticipation of future stress. So you get stronger and faster with time. As the previously quoted Time Magazine article put it:

    When stressed by extreme exercise, certain chemical channels in the muscle cells that regulate calcium changes broke down. Calcium is critical for cell signaling, and the extreme demands triggered by the exercise prompt the cell to adjust its energy production and become more efficient.

    For recreational athletes, the effect can be pretty significant. A single session of HIIT triggered molecular changes in muscle cells that remained detectable 24 hours later in a muscle biopsy. The muscle cells are essentially changing in order to prepare themselves for further hits of HIIT, so they can remember how much energy they need and how quickly they need to produce this fuel in order to sustain themselves through the bouts of intense activity.

  • Less boring: Walking and jogging can be pleasant. But they can also get old quickly. Interval training, because it can involve everything from lifting heavy weights to running up hills in a national park to swimming hard laps in a pool, offers infinite variety. And the short, strenuous bursts are over before they get boring.

Start easy

To begin, just do whatever you can do — biking, swimming, running, lifting — hard enough to raise your pulse to what feels like a mildly alarming level. Then rest and repeat. Start with one such workout per week and ramp up as soon as it starts to seem easy.

Mandatory disclaimers

In your research, you’ll find a lot of discussion of maximum pulse rates and how to determine your target range. Note that these are averages and everyone is different, so don’t feel compelled to achieve “normal” numbers immediately. And always check with your doctor before starting anything that has “high intensity” in its name.

Go for variety

There are a million ways to get hard, short bursts of exercise, so branch out. Join an aquatic center and swim laps. Seek out hilly roads or trails and walk, run, or bike them. Run up stairs when possible. If you belong to a gym, ask the staff to show you how to use the cardio machines for programmed interval workouts. Many gyms also offer group HIIT classes.

Personal note: I live on a low-traffic, hilly road that’s turned out to be great for interval training (see below). At the peak of each hill (I bike and walk the dog most days) I’m breathing hard, and at the bottom I’m back to breathing normally. Five or so such hills is a 15-minute bike workout that was enough at first. Now it’s getting easier, which means it’s time to add more hills.

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October 6th, 2023

Posted In: John Rubino Substack

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