If you have been reading my blog for a while you might remember that I reviewed a BBC programme about exercise called the Truth About Exercise just over two years ago. The idea was that a short burst of intense exercise three times a week carried health benefits out of proportion to the time devoted to it. Being fond of an experiment I gave it a try, and promptly pulled a muscle. In health, as in so much else, you can have too much of a good thing. But I have persisted, and I thought it was time for an update.
A quick recap – the research indicated that short bursts of intense exercise trigger off a body response that transfers body mass from your fat reserve and into muscle. This sounds like a good thing, and may well help prevent obesity and diabetes. These are rather hard results to monitor on one individual, so I was happy to settle for just not getting out of breath so quickly. I also had a measure of fitness, which was the time I took to run a regular course around my house.
So what I found was that adding the intense exercise to my admittedly rather modest existing regime did seem to lead to an improvement in my running speed. It was not particularly decisive. I didn’t dare run the data through a stats programme because I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have shown up as significant, but I did shave about 20 seconds off a half mile run.
I think had I carried on as I was doing I would have seen something a bit more significant emerging, but life intervened. I moved house and changed jobs. In fact I stopped having a regular job and became a self employed consultant. All this took quite a while – I had a longish handover period from my old post. Adjusting to a new style of life was quite a big deal, and my regular morning run was one of the things that changed.
But now I have had over a year without it I have realised how important it was to keeping my health on course so I have reinstated it. I have had to make a few practical changes. Rather than going for an actual run outside I know stick to my running machine. And I now incorporate the high intensity bit at the end of the run rather than as a totally separate thing.
The big problems with developing this habit are motivation to do it in the first place and the persistence to carry on with it once I have started. What I have found recently is that the best way to overcome these is to use music. I love all types of music (except for jazz and barber shop, obviously). So what I do is pick three up tempo songs and set them up as a Spotify playlist. Then next morning the first thing I do when I fall out of bed is load up the playlist and off I go. As an extra bit of motivational psychology I post the playlist on Twitter after the run. I know nobody is reading anything so dull, but it makes me feel sort of accountable to the Twitter community for keeping up the habit.
I don’t know if I am actually converting fat to muscle as a result of this. I may try quantifying my speed again in future. (I’ll have to do that without music, the tempo of the music is a big factor.)
But I can say that the short term benefits are worth it in themselves. For a start it really wakes you up and gets you off to a good start to the day. This is particularly true on those cold mornings when bed is a really comfortable place to be. I also find it gives me more energy. And on top of that I am rediscovering some great music from my past that I would otherwise quite likely never listen to again. So it is all good.