Intense Exercise for Heart Attack Patients
By Dr. Gabe Mirkin
Two years ago, researchers in Norway treated recovering heart attack victims with the same intense training methods used by competitive athletes (American Heart Journal, June 2009). They supervised them as they ran on a treadmill very fast for a few seconds, rested and then repeated their intense intervals. For example, some of the patients ran fast for 30 seconds every five minutes.
The interval-training heart attack victims were able to use more oxygen maximally (VO2max) and had their heart rates returned toward normal faster than other heart attack victims who did slower continuous training. This advantage persisted 30 months after the patients completed their 12-week rehabilitation program.
This same research group has now shown that high-intensity interval training reduces high blood pressure more than continuous exercise does (European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, June 8, 2011).
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have started to supervise 30-second bursts of exercise using faster speeds and steeper inclines, gradually increasing the number of intervals and their length to 120 seconds. I believe that they are the only center in the U.S. using intense interval training to rehabilitate heart attack victims.
Certainly intense training is not accepted yet as a treatment for heart attack victims, particularly those who have chest pain with exercise or excessive shortness of breath. Intense exercise can precipitate heart attacks in people with blocked arteries. The exercise sessions are usually supervised by trained technicians using electrocardiograms, at least in the beginning.
This study adds to the accumulating evidence that intense exercise offers much greater health benefits than just exercising; see my summary below:
INTENSE EXERCISE BETTER FOR REDUCING BELLY FAT: Intense exercise is far more effective in reducing belly fat than less intense exercise (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, November 2008. Metabolism 1991(May);40(5):545-551). Storing fat primarily in your belly usually means that you have very high insulin levels which increase risk for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even some cancers. Insulin causes fat to be deposited in your belly.
INTENSE EXERCISE HELPS YOU LOSE WEIGHT: Many people do not lose weight when they exercise because they don’t do it vigorously enough to raise their body temperatures and increase their metabolisms (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, January, 2001;11(1):1-14). Intense exercise can raise body temperature enough to burn extra calories for up to 18 hours afterwards (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2001;11(1):15-31). Most people cannot lose weight by swimming because water conducts heat from the body so efficiently that it prevents their body temperatures from rising.
INTENSE EXERCISE PREVENT DIABETES: Studies from Yale (Journal of Applied Physiology, January 2006) and Norway (Circulation, July 2008) show that intense exercise is far more effective in preventing and controlling diabetes than exercising at a leisurely pace. Intense exercising diabetics have lower blood sugars levels, better contraction of their arteries, better muscle growth, less cell damage, and lost more fat than casually exercising diabetics.
INTENSE EXERCISERS HAVE LONGER TELOMERES: Researchers in Homburg, Germany showed that 50-year-old men who ran more than 50 miles per week at a fast pace had telomeres (chromosome caps) that were almost the same length as those of 20-year-old runners on the German National Team, and more than 40 percent longer than those or inactive men of the same age (Circulation, December 2009). This is astounding because shortened telomeres represent aging.
The active ends of the genetic material (chromosomes) in cells are covered with a layer of proteins called telomeres. If they weren’t, the exposed ends of the genetic material would stick to anything nearby and the cells would die. However, each time a cell divides to make two cells, a little bit of the telomere is removed. Eventually the telomere is gone, the ends of genetic material stick together and the cell can no longer divide so it dies without replacing itself. Obviously, the longer the telomeres, the longer it takes for the telomeres to be used up and the longer a cell lives.
INTENSE EXERCISE DOES NOT DAMAGE A HEALTHY HEART: Intense exercise does not damage a healthy heart. To improve for athletic competition, all athletes must suffer skeletal muscle damage. Without this damage, their muscles will not grow and they will not become stronger.
So on one day, they exercise very intensely by lifting very heavy weights, running very fast, or competing on the basketball court very intensely. They know that they have damaged their muscles with hard exercise because their muscles feel sore on the next day. As the muscles heal, they produce growth hormones that help the muscles to grow larger and stronger.
However a normal heart cannot be damaged by exercise. Post exercise electrocardiograms and echocardiograms are normal as are blood levels of heart-specific enzymes, creatine kinase and creatine kinase MB, and myoglobin.