Whether you are a gym junkie, a couch potato or somewhere in- between, it is likely you have been unable to avoid exposure to the growing body of evidence which proves exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve the length and quality of your life.

While pharmaceutical companies scramble to create drugs to prevent or cure diseases such as cancer and heart disease, health promotion experts keep trying to educate people about the amazing benefits of regular physical activity.

Research categorically shows that regular exercise not only reduces the risk of developing a range of potentially deadly and debilitating diseases, it also increases the chances of survival in people who have already been diagnosed.

And it appears the message is finally starting to sink in, with record numbers of people enrolling in events such as the City to Surf fun run and the Rottnest Swim.

According to the Cancer Council’s Terry Slevin, at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week is enough exercise to reap all the associated benefits. “If you are looking at making lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, exercising regularly is definitely up there with things like quitting smoking and improving diet.”

But it is human nature to look for short cuts and many people start out with good intentions but fall off the bandwagon because exercise either takes too much time or causes too much pain.

In recent years there’s been increasing hype about high-intensity exercise programs which promise to deliver the same or better results as conventional exercise in less time.

According to Curtin University’s exercise physiologist Andrew Maiorana, when it comes to physical activity, there is no way to cheat the system.

“There’s no magic bullet, ” he said. “All the best outcomes are based on well-designed exercise programs that utilise the well-established principles of exercise training.

“That said, it depends on the type of outcomes you are looking for. The capabilities of different people are quite variable and a number of studies show that high-intensity interval training can be more time efficient and it can have a more dramatic effect on a person’s fitness.”

He said interval training basically allowed the participant to increase their overall dose of exercise because even though they had to push themselves harder, their body had a chance to recover during rest periods which were not allowed in more traditional forms of continuous exercise. “Basically that creates the stimulus for muscles to adapt to a higher degree than they might do with moderate exercise.”

But he said, there had been some concerns expressed that placing the body under so much pressure could lead to disaster.

“One study showed that the incidence of adverse cardiovascular events was five times higher during high-intensity interval training, ” he said.

Associate Professor Maiorana said regardless of medical history, it was important that people starting out on an exercise program consulted an expert for clearance to proceed before gradually building up strength and fitness.

“An exercise test of some description is really important to begin with, ” he said.

“It’s important to talk to someone like a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist before you do anything and particularly if you have been sedentary for a long time and you are over the age of about 45.”

He said some GPs were reluctant to give their patients formal advice about training and the associated risks and it was better to see someone who specialised in the field.

There was a database of accredited exercise physiologists on the Exercise and Sports Science Australia website, he said.

“Exercise won’t stop people from ageing, but regular training over time will certainly help to offset the ageing process, ” he said.


© The West Australian

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