When it comes to exercise, what’s best for your heart: slow and steady, or fast and furious?
How about a combination of both? Chip Gay, a clinical exercise specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota, says interval training — which alternates short bursts of high-intensity effort with longer stretches of less-intense activity — has big benefits for your heart.
“Exercise strengthens all the muscles in your body, including your heart muscle,” Chip says. “Interval training forces your heart to alternate between working hard and recovering. Doing that multiple times in a single workout can help your heart become more efficient.”
Chip says if you are just starting an exercise program wait at least one to two weeks before adding interval training to your routine.
To try it yourself, follow this 20- to 40-minute plan, adapted from Mayo Clinic:
- Walk slowly, working up to a moderate pace for five minutes.
- Increase your speed so that you’re walking briskly.
- After five minutes of brisk walking, increase your speed so that you are jogging, walking faster or add a grade on treadmill for 30 seconds to two minutes.
- Once it gets difficult, or your breathing becomes heavy, slow down to walking a moderate pace for one to three minutes.
- Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 for 10 to 30 minutes.
- To cool down, walk at a slower pace for five minutes.
If you’re already a runner, alternate jogging and sprinting in steps 2 to 4.
There are other benefits to interval training.
“Interval training also burns more calories, which may help with weight loss or weight maintenance,” Chip says. “It can also shorten your workouts, by allowing you to cover the same distance in a shorter amount of time.”
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise most days of the week. If you have a health condition, it’s OK to slowly work your way up.
“For optimal heart health, add in two to three days of strength and interval training a week,” Chip says. “If you do the correct amount of exercise you should feel good when you finish your workout.”
- Learn how to measure exercise intensity.
- Include these five elements of fitness into your routine.
- Get a 5K run/walk seven-week training schedule for beginners.
- Read more exercise blogs, and find fitness classes.