Two nights ago I watched Horizon on iPlayer, which talked about new scientific research into health and exercise, and was presented by the affable Dr.Michael Mosley. Having just started on a new health regimen, it was interesting to see what this programme had to say about exercise. I have summarised the main points from the programme below but I urge you to watch it first rather than read this summary. “Spoilers ahead” as they say.
First, he went to a cafe in Glasgow to have a Scottish breakfast (something I miss dearly) and ate the equivalent of a normal persons daily fat intake in one sitting. He then headed to the lab to have a sample of his blood centrifuged 4 hours later to separate out the blood. You could quite clearly see that a thick layer of fat had aggregated at the top of the sample, some three times more than prior to the meal. The fat present in the blood stream would have a much greater chance of interacting with vessel walls, creating blockages, and increasing the risk of stoke etc. He was then advised to go on a brisk walk that evening and the next day repeat the experiment. What they found was that despite eating the same meal, because of the light exercise he has done the night before, the circulating fat was much lower post-breakfast due to an increased production of lipoprotein lipase brought about by the exercise. This acted to break down the excess fat, and send it to the muscles where is could be burnt off rather than going around the digestive system and blood stream to cause athesclerotic plaques.
Next he headed to Nottingham to find out about H.I.I.T, high intensity interval training. I’ve known about this for a while, but not quite as extreme as what they were suggesting. Rather than go for an 1 hour jog, 3 times a week, like the government guidelines, you can receive many of the same health benefits from just 1 minute of maximum effort training 3 times a week. They got him on an exercise bike and asked him to do 20 seconds of all-out sprinting, followed by a rest, and then repeated 2 more times. He was to do this for 4 weeks to see what would happen.
They also showed research about new gene tests available which could point out if people were “exercise super responders” or unresponsive. Apparently, a few genes handed down by your parents determine if you’re likely to be responsive to aerobic training. Apparently 22% of the population are non-responders that see no aerobic fitness increase from an exercise program, while 15% of people, (who might not even know it) can improve their fitness quite markedly. They were measuring two aspects of Michael’s fitness. His insulin sensitivity, and VO2 max. The first determines how rapidly his body can process a sugary drink and produce enough insulin to reduce the levels back to a basal level. If this does not happen effectively, you are classified insulin resistant. Insulin Resistance in fat cells results in higher levels of circulating lipids which are free to float around the blood steam rather than being mobilised as energy by muscle cells. This leads to Type II diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. VO2 max determines your aerobic fitness.
The results were impressive for the insulin test. After a total of 12 minutes exercise in a month, his ability to reduce the amount of glucose in his blood improved greatly, and reduced his already high risk of developing type II diabetes. On the other hand, his VO2 Max hardly changed at all despite finding it easier to ride for longer. They then showed the results from his gene test which confirmed that he was indeed in the bottom percentile of the aerobic non-responders, although it is known for aerobic fitness to improve at a much slower rate. My mum has just emailed me to say she’s going to try the 12 minute HIT program but expects that she too is in the non responsive group. Fiona kept pointing out that the people talking about HIT were fat, but I made the point that not all Michelin stared chefs cook themselves haute cuisine when they get home.
Finally, we learnt about NEAT which is essentially exercise without breaking a sweat. A very eccentric professor who had the amazing ability to guess someones walking speed told us about the principles of NEAT. Basically, it’s all about moving around as much as possible. “The chair is a killer’ and we spend as much as 12 hours a day in one, not moving. He pointed out that just by walking a bit faster, or texting while walking, we could up our metabolic rate and increase the amount of calories burned over the course of a day. Michael was asked to wear a pair of “fidget pants” to measure his activity levels before and after trying out NEAT. It turns out he has a very sedentary lifestyle which involves many periods of inactivity. After being shocked by this, he made an effort to fidget more. Getting out of his chair, walking around while on the phone, not taking the elevator, cycling to work, standing on the train, etc. It tuned out he burned an extra 500 calories a day without doing any planned exercise. Pretty impressive. I knew waggling my leg was a good thing.
I’ve just ordered some boxing pads so that my brother and I can “spar” in the gym between workouts. Boxing is the ultimate HIIT activity because it involves high intensity followed by rest. I’m also going to dust off my skipping rope/jump rope.