Maintaining physical fitness is the best measure of cardiovascular health. And intensity of exercise versus duration is the most important measure of overall fitness.
Can an active 50-year-old be more fit than a lazy 20-year-old? It seems that exercise—how much and how intense—makes all the difference: high intensity exercise is the most effective in supporting cardiovascular health.
A group of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s K.G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine compared the peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) and cardiovascular risk factors in 4,631 healthy men and women.
They used the largest fitness database in the world with objective laboratory measures of VO2peak in subjects who were aged 20 to 90 years of age. This information allowed researchers to compare these measures of fitness with cardiovascular risk factors and other measures of overall health.
What they confirmed was that being young doesn’t equate to being fit. They also confirmed that those who were least fit also had the worst measures of cardiovascular health, including higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Being active was an important factor in maintaining fitness and overall health. But the researchers have also shown in research that it’s the intensity of the exercise rather than the duration that is most important. This research demonstrated that intensity of exercise, versus duration, was most important in determining peak oxygen uptake—the most important measure of overall fitness.
The researchers measured the benefits of high intensity exercise in the form of interval training. These sessions involved four or more short periods (usually four minutes) of very high intensity exercise, followed by a similar number of short periods of lower intensity exercise.