Change is good - even when it comes to exercising. Did you know that altering the intensity of your workout or trying a new activity may benefit your cardiovascular and mental health? Mixing up your workout routine helps:
- Increase your aerobic fitness
- Keep your brain mentally sharp
- Prevent depression
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become popular over the last few years. You may have seen a class at the gym with stations and people working through vigorous repeated exercises, or a group of friends in the park switching off timed activities in short bursts of energy.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Cardiologist Jeremy Robbins, MD, explains the benefit of this kind of high-intensity cardiovascular and strength training workout.
HIIT has proven to be effective for reversing some of the impact on your heart that occurs from a sedentary lifestyle, improving body composition (i.e., distribution of muscle and fat), and perhaps most importantly, improving your body's ability to use oxygen – the best measure of your cardiorespiratory fitness."
The more oxygen you can efficiently consume and use, the easier exercise will feel at a given intensity level and the lower your risk for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease. While many fitness instructors teach modifications for a range of abilities, these routines can be demanding and they are not for everyone.
It's a promising type of exercise, but we need to learn more about its specific health effects and how it compares to other exercise before we broadly recommend it. The best routine continues to be the one that you consistently participate in."
While HIIT is safe even among patients with cardiovascular disease, it can be especially taxing to the musculoskeletal system, and Dr. Robbins advises that you consult with your doctor before starting a program.
Studies show that physical activity has benefits for the brain, too. Learning a new skill or Zumba step might help keep you mentally sharp and may help prevent depression, leading to a win-win situation. Depression itself can have a negative effect on heart health, particularly for patients with existing heart disease.
In terms of variety, "there is good data that many different types of exercise can be beneficial in preventing depression," explains John Torous, MD, Director of the Division of Digital Psychiatry at BIDMC, citing recent studies published in The Lancet Psychiatry and JAMA Psychiatry.
Torous shared how this work is helping patients in his practice. "In our digital psychiatry clinic at BIDMC, we utilize data from the fitness tracking features on peoples' smartphones and wearables to have data-informed discussions with patients about exercise during their visits. By tracking exercise and mental health symptoms like mood and anxiety via an app -we can partner with patients to understand how physical activity can help in their treatment."
While mixing up your workout routine can have many benefits, there is still a lot more to learn about how the body responds to exercise. Robbins is researching why different people respond to the same exercise program in sometimes vastly different ways by studying genes, proteins, and molecules. "We can now measure thousands of molecules that circulate in the blood before and after a person exercises," he explains. Through these analyses, Robbins and his research collaborators hope to identify specific chemicals or 'biomarkers' that help predict who benefits most from a given exercise program, and better understand how exercise mediates its exercise-induced health benefits. "The ultimate goal – and we are not there yet – is to use these technologies to help guide people to the right exercise program so that they can achieve their specific health goal or improve an individual health condition."