The New York Times has officially ruled 2017 as the year of intensity. One story from 2017 documented a physiological study on Robert Marchand, a French amateur cyclist who just so happened to be at his best at the age of 105, as he gets even fitter and better with age.
The Journal of Applied Physiology studied Marchand’s training to discern how and why he was peaking at a later age than other active people. Dr. Veronique Billat found that Marchand had higher VO2 levels than his counterparts, which allowed him to perform higher. According to the Times,
Dr. Billat had [Machand] begin a new training regimen. Under this program, about 80 percent of his weekly workouts were performed at an easy intensity, the equivalent of a 12 or less on a scale of 1 to 20, with 20 being almost unbearably strenuous according to Mr. Marchand’s judgment. He did not use a heart rate monitor.
The other 20 percent of his workouts were performed at a difficult intensity of 15 or above on the same scale. For these, he was instructed to increase his pedaling frequency to between 70 and 90 revolutions per minute, compared to about 60 r.p.m. during the easy rides. (A cycling computer supplied this information.) The rides rarely lasted more than an hour.
The study shows that Marchand’s VO2 levels increased because of the high-intensity regimens.
Another study from 2017 demonstrated how strenuous exercise alters how people age. The study from Cell Metabolism shows that high-intensity workouts can reverse what old age does to the body. Researchers have discovered more and more evidence that exercise has an affect on the body at a cellular level. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic found that elderly men and women experience these changes at a higher rate than younger people.
The Times’ Gretchen Reynolds, who wrote about the study, quoted Dr. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, as saying, “It seems as if the decline in the cellular health of muscles associated with aging was ‘corrected’ with exercise, especially if it was intense.”
Intensity was the ubiquitous theme of fitness and exercise in 2017. Reynolds explains that intensity varies from person to person. If you rarely workout, then a simple 5-minute exercise could constitute as intense. If you are a regular exerciser, like many Americans in this day and age, then a longer, more strenuous workout is needed to achieve an intense level that can then reap the rewards of high-intensity workouts.
High-intensity workouts are not the end all in fitness. One study concluded that an hour spent running increases one’s life span by seven hours. “These gains are not infinite,” Reynolds writes, as “they seem to be capped at about three years of added life for people who run regularly.”
Read more of Reynold’s 2017 recap here.