Pick Up the Pace

How to get the most out of the exercise you do.

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

Previously, I have talked about how any type of physical training can make your insulin work better. However, how would you feel if I tell you that you can make only small changes in whatever you are now doing and gain very large health benefits?

A research study in the July issue of Diabetes Care tested out the exact regimen that I always recommend, which involves increasing exercise intensity at least during part of your normal workouts. In that study, they took individuals with type 2 diabetes who were already walking over 10,000 steps a day (good for them!) and added a "Pick Up the Pace," or PUP, program to their training that involved increased walking speeds. The participants wore pedometers and determined their usual walking pace as the number of steps they took during a 10-minute walk; then they established a training cadence that was 10% above their usual pace 30 minutes per day three days a week. For example, if someone's usual pace was 90 steps per minute, he or she would increase his/her walking pace to about 100 steps per minute during that time. As a result, after 12 weeks of PUP training, participants increased their fitness beyond what they had already achieved walking 10,000 steps a day without walking any extra, but simply walking faster for 90 minutes a week.

The PUP study involved walking, an aerobic activity that, by definition, is one that uses your large muscles rhythmically and continuously for more than two minutes at a time. All of the more traditional exercises" (i.e., walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobic dance, and more) qualify as aerobic, but so do some of the newer ones, such as in-line skating, aquatic exercise classes, "hip hop dancing" classes, and some segments of Pilates workouts. The current recommendation for everyone is to engage in a minimum of three to five days per week of aerobic exercise done for 30 to 60 minutes—either continuously or cumulatively, as long as it occurs in bouts of 10 minutes or longer.

To get the most out of your aerobic exercise, keep the PUP study in mind. During any activity, you can simply increase the intensity of your exercise for short periods of time (so-called "interval training") to gain more fitness and health benefits from it. To start with, if you are out walking, speed up slightly for a short distance (such as between two light poles or mailboxes) before slowing back down to your original pace. During the course of your walk, continue to include these short, faster intervals occasionally, and, as you are able to, lengthen these intervals so that they last two to five minutes at a time (or even up to 30 minutes, like was done in the PUP study). Not only will you become more fit and use up extra calories doing so, but you also will likely feel more tired when you finish your walk (which is actually a good thing). Over the course of several weeks, you may even find that your general walking speed has increased due to the extra conditioning from your interspersed bouts of faster walking.

Increasing exercise intensity even briefly works for everyone. For instance, unfit men and women in their 30s and 40s in another study trained just twice a week doing only three to four minutes of aerobic exercise at an intensity of 70-80% of their maximal heart rate (i.e., short, intense exercise), preceded and followed by three-minute warm-up and cool-down periods. By doing so, they increased their maximal aerobic capacity by over 13% in just 12 weeks, even though most people can't increase their maximal capacity by more than 25% total, no matter how much or how long they train. Almost unbelievably, the participants in this study experienced major gains in their aerobic capacity by doing a total of 6-8 minutes of harder exercise a week.

Perhaps studies like these explain the sudden interest in the ROM Time Machine, an exercise machine available in specialized gyms that you work on for only four minutes at a time, but at a near-maximal pace. Workouts like those are definitely not going to get you as fit as longer sessions of aerobic exercise, and they certainly won't prepare you to run a marathon, but short, intense work has its benefits. The same intensity principle applies to almost every kind of exercise you do, from walking to cycling to gardening. In fact, even competitive athletes generally plateau at a certain level unless they do some version of this heavier "interval" training from time to time.

Tips for Optimizing Your Endurance Training

  • Become more active all day in unstructured ways to build your overall endurance.
  • Incorporate faster intervals into any activity that you do.
  • Plan workouts of varying intensities or hard and easy days to maximize results.
  • Incorporate at least one long day of exercise a week to build greater endurance.
  • To maximize your insulin action, aim to spend a greater total time being active rather than worrying about your workout intensity.
  • If you can only manage to fit in short workouts, try to work out harder during that time to gain or preserve fitness.
  • Emphasize the fullest range of motion possible around your joints during all activities.
  • Participate in a variety of activities to gain the benefits of cross training and to keep your interest high and your injuries few.
  • Include at least one day of rest into your weekly schedule, but ideally avoid taking off more than two days in a row.

For more information on all of the mental benefits of physical activity, please consult my new book, The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight. Check my Web site (www.shericolberg.com) for more details or to order a copy today.

Read Sheri's bio here.

Read more of Sheri Colberg-Och's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition. 

Last Modified Date: July 09, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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