For all their fancy schooling and Hippocratic oaths, doctors have cooked up some pretty wacky cures over the years. From treating patients with freezing water, breakfast cereal and even meth, doctors have taken an almost perverse delight in stretching the definition of “first do no harm” until it plays out more like “I wonder what will happen if I put a leech on this dude’s face.” And while the standard recommendation of thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day to promote heart health is nowhere near as insane as prescribing meth, it turns out that, medically speaking, the advice is similarly wrongheaded.
According to a recent study published in the medical journal Circulation, the standard medical advice of a half hour of moderate exercise every day to improve heart health results in distressingly little heart health improvement. But there is a better solution, and it will only take every second of your free time: (via The Washington Post)
[The researchers] found that “those following the 30-minutes-a-day guidelines [of moderate-intensity exercise] issued by the American Heart Association had “modest reductions” in heart failure risk compared to those who did not work out at all. But those who exercised twice and four times as much had “a substantial risk reduction” of 20 percent and 35 percent, respectively.
Let’s break down those numbers: this study asserts that we actually need two hours of daily moderate exercise to decrease the risk of heart failure, a 300% increase over previous recommendations. To put that in perspective, “moderate exercise” is moving at a “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” pace. And while there is nothing quite as inconvenient as death, for many people two hours of daily exercise is a close second.
But for the few people who cannot fit an extra 14 hours on the Nordic Track into their weekly schedule, there is another, faster, way to perform that heart-saving exercise. Because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “one minute of vigorous activity is about the same as two minutes of moderate activity.” So conceivably, you would just have to work out at 85% of your maximum heart rate for an hour to get the same results. And who can’t squeeze in an hour of strenuous physical activity every day? It’s just an hour. That’s barely one and a quarter episodes of Brisco County Jr.
On a personal note, I am baffled by both this study and its broader implications. Part of this is due to my ignorance of science in general and human physiology in particular, but these numbers still don’t seem right to me. Two hours of daily moderate exercise, or an hour of vigorous exercise, is not a realistic goal for most people. In addition, the study also does not appear to address HIIT (high intensity interval training), which has been producing some favorable results for heart health in a fraction of the time.
So, until a new study comes out or a PHD with a glue stick can construct a colorful enough diagram to explain the science of this to me, I am going to keep doing my Tabata sets on the exercise bikes at the gym. I don’t know if this exercise is going to prevent heart disease. In fact, the only thing I’m sure of at this point is that my exertion grunts distress the other gym patrons. But until I know better, I’m going to keep grunting and sweating on that bike. And not for two hours, not even close.
After all, I am a professional writer and time is of the essence (as I am busy with important work). Translation: These videos of 1980s aerobic dance competitions aren’t going to watch themselves.