Intervals maximize workout; prevent heart disease

August 10, 2010 3:10:25 PM PDT
Olympic athletes have used a training technique called intervals for years, but it can help anyone who wants to maximize their workouts. Now, some heart doctors are recommending it to their patients.

Sports physiologist and now some cardiologist say interval training is better for your overall health than longer sessions of slow sustained exercise. Interval training is when you add short bursts of high intensity to aerobic workouts. No matter what your age or fitness level, it is believed that interval training can lower your risk of a dire heart event.

Wes Emmert leads an interval training camp.

"Life is interval training. We work and then we rest," said Emmert.

The class participants give the class excellent reviews.

"The big thing for me is you take it in small steps. You achieve a lot and then you rest," said Joe Powers, a fitness enthusiast.

The people in Emmert's class are very fit. But everyone, even couch potatoes or people who've had heart attacks can benefit from interval training, says cardiologist Stephen Kopecky of the Mayo Clinic.

"Interval training evokes in people's minds Marine boot camp. Three weeks without food and water in sub-zero weather. It's not that way at all," Dr. Kopecky said.

It is about starting slow and going at a level that is comfortable for you. For example, Eldon Skurdahl had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass, but every day he interval trains on the treadmill.

"I leave the speed the same and then I just increase the grade," he said.

Dr. Kopecky says if you do intervals for 20 minutes and every so often go hard and increase your heart rate for 30 seconds to two minutes and then back down again, you burn the same amount of calories as you would in 30 minutes of sustained exercise.

To start interval training, try starting with 30 seconds of pushing yourself harder. Each workout, make your interval 4 seconds longer until your intervals are two minutes in length.

Interval training also helps your heart, arteries and muscles work more efficiently than sustained exercise. It also improves your over-all fitness.

Interval training is safe, even for heart patients. You just have to start at the level that is right for you and build from there. Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program, to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.

Dr. Kopecky says he's seen people of all ages benefit from interval training, even senior citizens and people who are just starting an exercise program. He says the more you move, the greater your chances are of reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

For more information, visit