A new study from Norway compared three groups of older adults for five years : the control group was advised to follow national guideline for physical activity (and 80% reported they complied with this), another group did moderate intensity steady state training, and a third group did high intensity training two days a week. The Norwegian guidelines for physical activity are similar to those in the US (30 minutes of moderate activity recommended most days). After 5 years, there was a reduction in risk for all-cause mortality of about 5% for the high-intensity group compared to the controls. But the moderate intensity group had no reduction compared to the controls. This is perhaps to be expected, because, per the national guidelines, the controls were also moderately active, similar to the moderate intensity group.
The health benefit observed for the high intensity exercise group makes sense in comparison to previous results, for example, I described results showing the benefits of exercising at higher intensity here: those who achieve the highest intensity level measure in METS on an exercise stress test have greatly reduced risk of death than unfit people.
Another takeaway for me from the new study, is that the results of just following the national guidelines are not bad compared to the high intensity group. So getting more people to follow the recommendations would help a lot. Norway has a reputation for having a more active population, and this study shows that it pays off. But if you want an added bonus, throwing in some high intensity a couple of times a week is a good idea.
I learned of the new study on Clarence Bass’s website. Clarence has been advocating the benefits of training hard once or twice a week, and going easier the other days, for years. I first got motivated to try high intensity training about 20 years ago by following his site. You can read Clarence’s commentary on the new study here.
1, Stensvold, D, et al, “Effect of exercise training for five years on all cause mortality in older adults—the Generation 100 study: randomised controlled trial”, BMJ 2020.