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Anti-Aging: New Research on Intensity, Fitness and Longevity – Road Bike Rider

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Expert road cycling advice, since 2001

By Coach John Hughes
Almost all recommendations for aerobic exercise are the same for adults ages 18 – 64 years and for adults 65 years and older. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) on Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults. (2009). In 2018 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published Physical Activity for Americans, 2nd ed. both recommend at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days. Specifically, the guidelines recommend:
In addition they make recommendations on exercises for muscle strength, flexibility and balance. You can read more in this column Anti-Aging New Exercise Recommendations.
The World Health Organization makes the same recommendations, which have been adopted by many countries.
Meeting all of the recommendations would take at least 5 hours a week. Many people can’t or aren’t willing to devote this much time. Scientists are researching whether there are other ways to get sufficient aerobic and other exercise in considerably less time. Here are four recent studies.
Original source material. I learn about studies from news and magazine reports; however, I always to the original source. Each of these studies was published in a scientific journal vetted by experts.
UK Biobank study. A study published in the scientific journal Nature on December 8, 2022 concluded, “These results indicate that small amounts of vigorous nonexercised physical activity are associated with substantially lower mortality.”
What the heck is “vigorous nonexercised” physical activity?
The researchers examined “brief bursts of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity (VILPA)…embedded into everyday life, rather than being done as leisure time exercise.”
VILPA “refers to brief and sporadic (for example, up to 1 or up to 2 min long) bouts of vigorous-intensity physical activity done as part of daily living, such as bursts of very fast walking while commuting to work or moving from place to place, or stair climbing.” Carrying a load more than 5% heavier than your body weight is vigorous exercise as well as some gardening and house cleaning activities.
The researchers used data from the UK Biobank, a large medical database with health information from people across the United Kingdom. The data came from wearable devices worn by 25,241 non-exercisers and 62,344 participants who exercised. Their average age was 60. Women were 56% of the participants.
VILPA was defined as 3 bouts a day of VILPA of 1 to 2 minutes each. Participants were studied for an average of 6.9 years.
The participants who did VILPA “showed a 38%–40% reduction in all-cause and cancer mortality risk and a 48%–49% reduction in CVD mortality risk.”  For the participants who exercised, “We obtained similar results.”
Association or causation. This study associates different types and amounts of physical activity with different mortality risks after adjust for different factors that could influence mortality. It doesn’t prove that these differences in physical activity cause greater longevity. However, the very large sample size makes it more likely differences of physical activity led to greater or lesser longevity.
Norwegian 4-minute bouts. A 2020l study by Norwegian scientists uses an experimental design to attempt to find causation. The study included 1,567 participants (50% women) with a mean age of 72.8 years. The participants were healthier than average Norwegians their age. Participants were randomly assigned to three different groups.
The control group (50% of the participants) followed the standard activity guideline of at least 30 minutes 5 days a week for a total of at least 150 minutes per week.
The moderate intensity (MIT) group (25% of the participants) extended two sessions to 50 minutes for a total of 190 minutes per week. MIT was an average of 70% of max heart rate.
The high intensity (HIT) group (25% of the participants) changed two sessions, each to a 10-minute warm-up and then 4 repeats of 4 minutes of HIT with 4 minutes recovery between each interval. HIT was 90% of max heart rate.
The study continued for 5 years and found – no surprise – the participants in all three groups lived longer than the average Norwegian.
The scientists “Observed a non-significant 1.7% absolute risk reduction in all-cause mortality in the HIIT group compared with control group, and a non-significant 2.9% absolute risk reduction in all-cause mortality in the HIIT group compared with MICT group.
At the end of the study the participants in the HIT group also were more fit now and reported greater gains in their quality of life than the other volunteers.
Study design. In good studies such as this one participants are randomly assigned to different groups.
Secondary reporting.  I read about this study in the New York Times, which said, “The men and women in the high-intensity-intervals group were about 2 percent less likely to have died than those in the control group, and 3 percent less likely to die than anyone in the longer, moderate-exercise group.” According to the original study the differences between the groups were so small they were non-significant. The New York Times reporting says the differences were significant.
Cycling exercise snacks. A small 2019 study looked at healthy, inactive 20-year-olds.  The control group of 12 (7 females) did traditional intervals with 3 repeats of 20 seconds cycling flat out with 3 minutes rest between each interval for a total of a 10-min training session. The experimental group did the same interval of 20 seconds flat out with 1 to 4 hours of recovery between each of the 3 intervals. Both groups worked out 3 days a week for 6 weeks.
The scientists concluded cardiovascular fitness “was similarly increased by a protocol involving sprint snacks spread throughout the day and a traditional SIT protocol in which bouts were separated by short recovery periods within a single training session.”
Comparability. You’re probably at least 50 years old and active; are the inactive 20-year-olds comparable to you? Scientist often recruit college students by paying them to participate in a study. Paying a participant isn’t a problem; however, this is why the study group many not be representative.
Stair climbing exercise snacks. Another 2019 study had 12 healthy young adults vigorously climbed three flights of stairs (60 steps), which took about 20 seconds. They repeated the climb a total of 3 times a day with 1 to 4 hours of recovery between climbs. They climbed three days a week for 6 weeks.  The control group of 12 didn’t exercise.
Researchers concluded, “Peak oxygen uptake was higher in the climbers after the intervention, suggesting that stair climbing ‘snacks’ are effective in improving cardiorespiratory fitness, although the absolute increase was modest.
Sample size. Twelve participants are a very small group. Even though scientists are careful, the participants may not be representative of a larger population.
4-second intervals. A 2021 study tested a group of 39 untrained 50- to 68-yr-old adults (24 women). “The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of maximal power cycling (PC) training using an inertial load ergometer on skeletal muscle mass and cardiovascular function in untrained 50- to 68-yr-old participants.” The participants did a 15-minute workout 3 times per week. Each session involved repeated (15–30 times) 4-second sprints at maximum power. The study lasted 8 weeks.
Researchers concluded, “These results demonstrate that 8 weeks of training at true maximal power was effective at increasing muscle mass and maximal power, as well as maximal cardiovascular capacity and functional tasks in untrained 50- to 68-yr-olds.”
Gender of participants. In the above studies about half the participants were women and half were men.  In this study 62% of the participants were women. Women and men are different physiologically and may not the genders may not have similar physical responses.  The study reported on the combined results, not by gender.
We’re each an experiment of one — what works for another roadie may not be the best for you.
The purpose of the above studies was to try to determine the shortest workout that would increase longevity — not necessarily the optimal workout. Improving your cardiovascular fitness is one key to increasing your longevity. Fortunately, very hard intensity riding isn’t the only way to increase your cardiovascular fitness.
The studies suggest:
If you are interested in trying very high intensity workouts, add a modicum of VHIT to your workouts for at least 6 weeks and see if they have one of more of the above first three benefits.
Riding very hard increases your max power; however, unless you’re a sprinter this doesn’t matter. Improving sustained power benefits almost all roadies.
There’s a limit on how much very high intensity riding you can do. HIT efforts aren’t as hard and you can do significantly higher volume of HIT than VHIT. Because of the total volume of HIT is a lot greater the total volume of HIT, there’s more total stimulus to your body and a greater increase in sustained power. This is called training in the sweet spot, which I explain in these columns:
Different kinds of intensity workouts have different benefits. Here are several columns to help you figure out what you want to achieve with harder riding and the best kind(s) of intensity are right for you:
My 3-article bundle Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond includes:

1. Training with Intensity 27 pages Doing the right hard riding slows the aging process and delivers an array of benefits at any age:
2. Peak Fitness 39 pages Contains four specific programs to improve your fitness in one or more of the following ways:
3. Fit for Life  34pages Exercise options to strengthen your body’s functions that keep you fit for life, including your aerobic, skeletal, muscular, neural, core and balance systems.
The 100-page bundleCycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond is only $13.50
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process has a chapter on moderate exercise to increase your aerobic and cardiovascular fitness and a chapter on high intensity exercise to achieve the same benefits.
Anti-Aging has illustrated chapters on each of the other types of fitness recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine: strength, flexibility, balance and weight-bearing workouts. Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in his previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It’s your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s.
The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
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