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weekly dose of exercise can be

crammed into the weekend with no
ill effects, says Gary O’Donovan of
Loughborough University, UK. Most
of people cram all their
governments urge people to do a little
every day, or at least spread their weekly exercise into one day
exercise over the week. But his team
analysed data from more than 63,000
adults in the UK spanning 18 years and
found that people who opted for a
“weekend warrior” regime had pretty says sports scientist Chris Easton at the
much the same reduced risk of early University of the West of Scotland, UK.
death from all causes, including “High-intensity training works: it’s
cardiovascular disease and cancer, as been shown pretty consistently to
those who spread out exercise. “One make you fitter, make you healthier,”
weekly bout is usually sufficient to he says.
reduce mortality and morbidity,” That’s because pushing the body
O’Donovan says. Even weekend out of its comfort zone for short bursts
warriors who did less than the forces it to adapt. The higher the
recommended amount for the week intensity, the greater the adaptation,
fared better than inactive people. with benefits for your lungs, heart and
Could you ever get too much of a circulation. “High blood flow through
good thing? “No level of exercise is too the heart, through the muscle, is the
much,” says O’Donovan. “There’s no thing that causes those large changes
increase in mortality or morbidity if in a short space of time,” says Easton.
you keep increasing the amount.” Just That’s not all. In a study published in
don’t go too hard each time. 2017, Sreekumaran Nair at the Mayo
Exercising three to five times a Clinic in Minnesota and his colleagues
week should set you up for a long compared muscle samples from
and healthy life, especially if you younger and older people who had
mix up activities, says Laura-Anne regularly done either HIIT training,
Furlong, a biomechanicist at a weights workout or both for three

Can you avoid

Loughborough University. “But months. They found that HIIT reduced,
running 10 to 15 miles, seven days a and even sometimes reversed, the
week, on a road will probably lead to
injuries.” Chris Simms
effects of old age on mitochondria,
the energy powerhouses inside cells.
‘hitting the wall’?
With age, mitochondrial deterioration “Bonking” takes on a very different meaning
causes fatigue and can contribute to when you start running. It doesn’t matter
diabetes. What’s more, high-intensity whether you are a seasoned runner or

Is intense exercise
training helps boost your metabolic a newbie, when faced with your first
rate, which means you burn more marathon, it is impossible to ignore talk

better? energy even at rest.

Sounds great, but full-on HIIT
of bonking or “hitting the wall”.
It will leave you weak at the knees, but
Getting fit in 4 minutes: this is the isn’t for everyone, Easton warns: not in a good way. Those who have been
promise of high-intensity interval done properly, it is an unpleasant through it describe the experience as a
training, marketed in gyms as HIIT. The experience. “I do this with my sudden onset of debilitating fatigue and
idea was thought up by Izumi Tabata students and invariably after all-out loss of energy that happens during the
and a team of researchers from the 30 seconds of maximal work on a race’s latter half. Formerly speedy runners
National Institute of Fitness and Sports bike, half of them are physically sick slow to a shuffle, often capitulating to the
in Japan in the 1990s. Tabata showed afterwards.” But incorporating some need to walk, and a racer swiftly switches
that 4-minute workouts, comprising element of vigorous exercise in a from a desire to finish in a certain time to a
repeated cycles of 20 seconds of all-out longer routine – whether faster-paced yearning to just finish at all.
work followed by 10 seconds of rest, walking or jogging, some hills or Bonking is a surprisingly slippery
done four days a week, brought greater just a few stairs – will deliver benefits. subject. From a physiological standpoint,
aerobic improvements than an hour’s “In terms of disease risk, what is we know we hit the wall when we run out
normal workout done five days a protective is substantially improved of glycogen, a carbohydrate stored in our
week for six weeks. when there’s a higher intensity muscles and liver that provides a readily
But does it deliver the goods? “The component,” says Easton. James Witts available source of energy. At this point,
answer to that is absolutely, definitely,” and Catherine de Lange

28 | NewScientist | 13 January 2018

Does stretching
Stretching adds precious minutes to
your workout, but is it all it’s cut out to
be? Accepted wisdom has it that a good
stretch helps avoid injury and leaves
you less sore after a tough workout.
But a 2011 review of 12 studies found
that regardless of whether you do it
before or after exercise, stretching
doesn’t significantly reduce delayed-
onset muscle soreness (see “Why are
my muscles aching?”, page 33).
It also doesn’t seem to reduce the risk
of injuring your back or lower limbs.
But it does seem to fractionally reduce
the risk of some injuries to muscles,
ligaments and tendons. This is especially
true of dynamic stretching, where you
move your limbs to increase the range
of motion, says Nic Gill at the University
of Waikato, who is also the head
strength and conditioning coach for
New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team.
“The point of stretching should be
to get good mobility and normal
function,” he says.
What about performance? In work
now under review, Gill and his team
the body switches to its fat stores. Fat a self-fulfilling prophecy component,” says looked at how stretching affected
is a great fuel source because we have Jens Omli at California Polytechnic State 20 athletes sprinting, jumping and
loads of it, but we are much less efficient University. If you expect to hit the wall, you changing direction. Although the
at turning it into energy than carbs. This are more likely to do so. participants felt the stretching would
means runners can’t maintain the intensity help, it made no difference.
they were moving at, and have to drop OUTWARD FOCUS And aside from that fact it wastes
to a walk. There are ways to hone your thinking, says time, there might be other good
So far so simple, but athletes and Clare Stevinson at Loughbourgh University reasons to skip the stretch. “It may,
researchers alike have been left scratching in the UK. Her work shows that runners who in fact, reduce exercise performance
their heads as to why people only hit the daydream during a race are more likely to for some types of activities such as
wall some of the time – and how to avoid it. bonk, but also that those who spend too endurance running,” says Lynda
One study looking at more than 300 much time thinking about breathing hit Norton of Flinders University in
marathoners found that only 43 per cent the wall sooner. She suggests focusing on Adelaide, Australia, who has conducted
reported hitting the wall during this something external like the scenery and a review of studies looking at the
42-kilometre challenge. Men were much spectators, and paying attention to race impact of stretching. The static variant
more likely to do so, while runners who conditions, distance markers and drink where you try and hold or increase a
boasted a longer maximum training run stations. Intermittent check-ins about stretch, seems especially bad. “Static
were less likely to bonk than those who had how you are feeling are wise, “but more stretching has been shown to inhibit
never gone further than 32 kilometres. attention should be focused externally on maximum strength and power, which
Pacing yourself could be key to avoiding the task at hand,” she says. are important for explosive activities
the phenomenon, as this might ease So the best way to avoid the wall is to do like jumping and sprinting,” she says.
the transition from carbohydrates to fat some long-distance training, pace yourself That’s because these movements rely
stores and ensure you don’t run out of and develop a mental strategy. “Carb on elastic energy generated by the
glycogen too abruptly. So it could be that loading” before a race can increase the muscles. Stretching seems to reduce
women are more disciplined about training amount of glycogen we start off with, their ability to store and reuse this
and pacing themselves during a run. but eventually our stores run dry. form of energy, says Norton, stopping
Psychology plays a role too. “There’s also Aylin Woodward people from sprinting as fast or
jumping as high. >

13 January 2018 | NewScientist | 29