Study Says A High-Intensity Workout Is Best For Longevity Past 70

mbg Editorial Assistant By Eliza Sullivan
mbg Editorial Assistant
Eliza Sullivan is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She received a B.S. journalism and a B.A. in english literature from Boston University.
Older woman and her daughter running on the beach

Continuing to exercise as we age is an important part of supporting both physical and mental health and may even help with preventing some diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect older groups.

But what exactly is the best type of movement for older groups? Well, according to new research from a team in Norway, individuals over 70 may benefit most from adding a high-intensity workout to their routine just a few days a week—and it may even promote longevity.

Finding the best workout for people over 70.

The data comes from the Generation 100 study, cause-and-effect research that followed participants aged 70 to 77 over a five-year period. The group of 1,500 participants was split into three training groups, one of which was assigned a routine of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) twice a week.

"Both physical and mental quality of life were better in the high-intensity group after five years than in the other two groups," shares Dorthe Stensvold, a professor in the Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). "High-intensity interval training also had the greatest positive effect on fitness."

The study also had two additional participant groups: a control group, who were advised to follow Norway's existing health recommendation; and a group who were assigned to work out at a continuous moderate intensity for 50 minutes, twice a week.

"In the interval training group, 3% of the participants had died after five years. The percentage was 6% in the moderate group. The difference is not statistically significant, but the trend is so clear that we believe the results give good reason to recommend high-intensity training for the elderly," says Stensvold.

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The importance of exercise for longevity.

So, does the data from the Generation 100 study provide evidence of the importance of exercise for longevity? "I'd like to answer with a clear and unequivocal yes because we believe that this is true," says Stensvold. "But training is probably not the only reason so few of the Generation 100 participants died compared to what's expected in this age group. The people who signed up to participate in Generation 100 probably had high training motivation to begin with. They also started with a relatively high level of activity, and most of them considered themselves to be in good health."

According to Stensvold, people in their 70s usually experience a 20% drop in activity over that decade, so a notable component of this research is that participants across the three groups all maintained their activity level during those years—meaning they were more active than the average person at this age.

"Our hope is that the national recommendations for physical activity will be modified to encourage older people even more strongly to do high-intensity training," she explains, "either as their only form of exercise or to supplement more moderate training."

What qualifies as high-intensity training?

For the purposes of the study, Stensvold says that high-intensity meant "training that gets you really sweaty and out of breath."

In other fitness contexts, high-intensity training is often associated with high-intensity interval training or HIIT, which generally involves short bursts of intense exercise, followed by periods of rest. One of the appeals of HIIT for any age group is the ability to fit into a quick routine that still packs a serious punch.

It is, however, important to be mindful that some HIIT workouts may lead to increased inflammation, which is why it may not be the best workout plan for everyday use—but rather a helpful addition to your workout rotation. Not sure where to start with high-intensity training? Here are three no-equipment-required plans (that take only 12 minutes) to integrate into your routine.

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