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Optimum Performance: 1 weekly session of interval training improves cardiovascular health

How much exercise, what type, and intensity is enough to improve cardiovascular health? These questions have, to some degree, been answered in a recent study, “Low-Frequency Severe — Intensity Interval Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Functions,” which is published in the April 2015 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise — the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Previous research has demonstrated that, “High-intensity interval training was found to be more effective in improving cardiorespiratory function and endurance performance than continuous training.”

Researchers at the Graduate School of Health Sciences, Morinomiya University Medical Sciences, Osaka, Japan, have now concluded, “That severe – intensity interval training implemented at a low frequency of once per week not only increases maximum oxygen consumption, but also induces cardiac morphological adaptations involving left ventricular hypertrophy (abnormal thickening of the heart muscle) and cardiorespiratory metabolic response during submaximal exercise.”

According to Chris Paris, an interventional cardiologist with the Cardiovascular Institute of the South at St. Charles Parish Hospital, “When a person begins to exercise, there is an increase of work and demand on the heart by the body. The heart adapts by remodeling. It gets a little bigger and stronger to meet the new demands of the body.”

Notes Paris, “By the heart remodeling, it is able to increase the amount of blood flow per heartbeat. This provides the muscles of the body with the needed amount of blood and oxygen to perform the increased activity.”

The researchers point out that ACSM guidelines, on endurance training, emphasize that, “Moderate -to- high intensity continuous training and interval training performed at a frequency of three to five times per week for a period of 2 to 3 months effectively improve cardiorespiratory functions.”

The (ACSM) guidelines, the study says, “Also indicate that training at a frequency of less than twice a week does not generally result in a meaningful increase in maximum oxygen consumption (maximum endurance also known as VO2 max.)”

The Japanese study participants included fourteen male volunteers, who were 18-29 years old, with an average height of 174.2 cm (5’8.5″), and a weight of 70.8 kg. (155.7lbs.). The interval training sessions – performed on a bicycle ergometer (stationary bike)- were conducted at one session per week for three months.

Each participant’s training sessions included performing three bouts of cycling at 80% of their maximum work rate until volitional fatigue occurred. The recovery time between each exercise interval was fixed at 2 minutes of active recovery with no resistance on the cycle – along with 1 minute of complete rest.

Prior research has also pointed to the fact that, “High-intensity interval training in heart failure patients was superior to moderate-intensity training with regard to reversal of left ventricular remodeling, aerobic capacity and quality of life.”

However, Paris adds, “I would be cautious in any heart failure patient and any patient with significant coronary disease that is not in good physical shape and part of a training program already. I feel that patients should (first) be cleared from a coronary artery disease and heart failure standpoint by a provider, then begin a regular training program. Once the patient can handle a regular workout regimen, then HIIT (high-intensity interval training) in this situation can be evaluated.”

This original research concluded, among other points, that, “The present findings may provide new insights necessary for defining the low frequency of severe-intensity interval training not only in the field of sports science, but also in prescribing exercise therapy in the clinical setting.”

As for Paris, “After reviewing the data, I would recommend this training plan to anyone who can safely perform the routine. I believe the best medicine for primary prevention of all diseases is physical activity.”

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently a fitness consultant to Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. He is St. Charles Parish Hospital’s fitness and wellness expert. Contact him at