The Fountain of Youth. It’s an idea that has been around since the beginning of human history, probably, certainly since early civilisation, with roots in Greek mythology and written about as early as the the 5th century BCE, by the Greek writer Herodotus. He described it as a spring that could restore the youth of anyone who drinks from it or bathes in its waters. That story described a quite literal return to being young. The question is, is it really necessary to be young in order to be youthful, or at least in order to have some of the energy that one has when younger.
Apparently not - at least, not according to a report into some research from the Mayo Clinic.
The true Fountain of Youth, so described by the scientists and researchers involved or as we at SGSC might say a source of youthful energy, is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This is a form of exercise in which short periods of high energy exercise are interspersed with periods of exercise which involve a moderate energy output, say sprinting for a few minutes, then jogging for a few minutes.
So, where does this extra energy come from? The answer is from improvements in mitochondrial activity within muscle cells. The function of mitochondria is to turn the body’s nutrients into energy, to power activity and movement of all kinds. So a way to create improvements here is an intensely interesting and exciting discovery. This is particularly so for Silver Grey athletes since a decline in mitochondrial activity and efficiency is something that, firstly, is associated with ageing and, secondly, is certainly a cause of reduced levels of energy. Other similarly fundamental improvements from taking part in HIIT showed up by the research involved an increased abundance of ribosomes, the cellular elements that carry out protein synthesis. This could explain the gains in the mitochondrial activity.
The scientists, led by lead researcher Dr. K. Sreekumaran Nair, worked with 72 younger and older sedentary adults, who were divided into groups and were then put through one of three 12-week exercise regimes - HIIT, Resistance training (RT) or a combination of both. All groups showed increased insulin sensitivity - that is to say they had a greater ability to turn blood sugar into usable energy - and an increase of lean mass. But the best results came from HIIT on its own or in combination with resistance training (RT) i.e strength training. As far as creating this extra energy goes, only the HIIT group and the combined group increased both aerobic capacity as well as “skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiration”. This is the scientific way of describing the process whereby muscle turns nutrients into energy. According to the report into the results of the tests, HIIT reversed many age-related differences in the “proteome” (that is, the protein genome, the entire spectrum of proteins available within muscle cells) particularly in relation to mitochondrial proteins.
So, what does this mean in practice? If you are already involved in exercise and then just try and incorporate some HIIT within your training. You could do 4 or 5 minutes, you could do 20 minutes. There is plenty of information to be found online regarding different HIIT regimes, and many different ways of combining high energy exercise and moderate exercise. Tabata is one way, Fartlek is another, or you can invent your own. The critical aspect is that the high energy parts of the exercise ARE high energy, and that they are repeatedly interspersed with periods of moderate energy exercise in a high energy/moderate energy alternation.
If you are not currently exercising and don’t have a great level of fitness then don’t just charge into it. Start slowly, and build up to it. Consult your doctor or a fitness professional about getting started.
But as most Silver Grey athletes are already very fit, or are at least already on the fitness trail, there are no excuses - so get out there and do it!