Workout Tip: Up the Intensity



Provided you’re in proper shape for vigorous exercise (and do check with your doctor if you have heart concerns), you can still engage in intense activity, and there are plenty of benefits to that kind of all-out effort. High-intensity exercise raises your metabolic rate, even after you’ve finished. Perhaps more importantly, it promotes positive changes in the brain as well. Specifically, studies have found that it helps regrow neurons that diminish the symptoms of the chronic progressive neurological disorder Parkinson’s disease. During huff-puffing exercise, your brain releases a type of “brain fertilizer,” otherwise known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). And more vigorous physical activity at any age increases your hippocampal size and your brain connections (whether or not you have Parkinson’s).

Plus, exercising your leg and core muscles may work wonders for both your waist and your brain. Get your heart rate up to 85 percent of your age-adjusted maximum for 20 minutes, three times a week, and you’ll see the maximum benefit.

Here’s the formula for determining your age-adjusted maximum heart rate: 220 minus your age (or for greater accuracy, subtract 64 percent of your age from 211). For example, if you are age 55, your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus 55, or 165. Fifteen percent of that is about 25, so for optimum cardio you want to hit 140 beats a minute for 20 minutes, three times a week. Add one or two minutes of high-intensity exercise (see below) for each 20-minute period – again, if your doc says it’s okay to do so.

Interval training, or repeated short intervals of maximal effort, is especially effective at fueling weight loss and aerobic endurance. As an example, you would swim, walk or run for 20 seconds at an all-out maximum effort. Next, you’d do that activity at recovery intensity (much easier!) for 100 seconds, and then repeat the cycle several times. I like doing this in my own workouts a few times a week, be it on the treadmill or on a stationary bike that also works the arms. Whatever your workout, find ways to bring on the fire!

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