Most guys who are serious about fitness these days know that interval training is good for them. Cranking up the intensity for brief bursts makes you a better athlete and certainly makes for a more lively gym session than riding an exercise bike for an hour. But did you know that it’s also one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from a deadly heart attack?
That’s the implication of a recent study that’s part of an important shift in the way the medical community thinks about cardio. Any of you still zoning out at the gym in front of CNN really need to get with the program. Athletes swear by intervals because they train the body to withstand the intense exertion of game conditions. Now cardiologists are swearing by them too, because they get the heart used to efficiently speeding up and slowing down like a finely tuned Porsche, a Porsche that will help you steer clear of a heart attack — or survive a collision with one. In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, French researchers measured the heart rates of 5,713 healthy men on exercise bikes, then followed them for 23 years to see which ones died of heart attacks.
Of all the factors — whether the guys were regular exercisers, how long and hard they could cycle — the most telling was the ability of a guy’s heart to rocket up through the rpms and then quickly return to a purring idle. In fact, those with the biggest ranges between their heart rates during intense exercise and at rest were four times less likely to drop dead of a heart attack than those with the smallest.
With this plan, from California performance coach Alwyn Cosgrove, you don’t even need an exercise bike. Once your doctor has cleared you for intense exercise, test your heart responsiveness as indicated, then start integrating the workout into your regular routine twice a week. Do Round 1 at a brisk clip without stopping. (It should take about a minute; if it takes much less, add a few reps per exercise.) Walk around for three or four minutes to catch your breath. Do Round 2, recover the same way, and repeat, pushing yourself even harder.
Add a round a week, so you’re doing five in the second week (three of Round 1 and two of Round 2), six in the third, seven in the fourth. After a month test yourself again and see how much you’ve reduced your risk of a heart attack.