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Menopause Corner
Menopause Corner

Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.

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Get a Quality Workout in 20 Minutes!

I’m going to talk about exercise - again. It seems that every week I read about new research that shows how much exercise helps our heart, bones, muscles, memory and yes, even hot flashes and mood swings, as I wrote last week.

You may think that your busy life prevents you from exercising, but I’ve been reading about an approach to exercise that can give you a quality workout in just twenty minutes. It’s a time commitment that can work for most anyone, and you don’t need a gym membership.

It’s called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which involves alternating between periods of higher and lower intensity exercise. For example, if you’re on an exercise bike, you would pedal hard for a short period of time, say a minute, then take a break for a minute, then go hard again. On a treadmill, you could warm up to a pace that is challenging, then alternate with sprints every minute or two.

In a video that you can see on the New York Times website, Martin Gibala, Chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, explained that “you could do this with any type of exercise that involves large muscle groups” such as swimming or stair climbing, which you can do at home or on the road.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

The important thing is to get out of your comfort zone. “If your only exercise is walking around the block, say for the next two light posts I’m going to go harder than normal. I’m going to feel my heart rate get up a little more. I might be more out of breath, but you’re out of your normal comfort zone for a period of time, then you back off.”

I first read about HIIT in 1999 Body for Life, by Bill Phillips. He too advocated a  “20-Minute Aerobics Solution” but his approach was slightly different. Based on a ten-level Intensity Index, he suggested beginning your cardio exercise at your level 5 for two minutes to warm up, then increasing it by one level every minute until you reach level 9, at which point you go all out with a high-intensity effort. Then repeat four times followed by a cool down period.

“High intensity training burns fat more effectively than low-intensity exercise,” writes Phillips in his book. “It also speeds up your metabolism and keeps it revved up for some time after your workout.”  But he cautioned exercise newbies to take it slowly at first.  “For some, an intense effort may mean just walking up a hill.”

Modified endurance training can benefit most people, Martin Gibala said, even those with certain health conditions.  “There’s a large growing body of scientific research that would suggest that many different populations - people with metabolic syndrome, coronary artery disease, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, can safely perform modified forms of interval training that are at an intensity that is higher than we usually associate with traditional endurance training,” he explains in the video.

Nevertheless, it’s important to check with your physician before beginning an exercise program that’s more rigorous than you’re used to.

Wendy Hoffman writes about women’s health at www.menopausetheblog.com.

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About the Author

Wendy writes about women's health in midlife.