High-intensity interval training has a transformative effect on your cells. PICTURE: Supplied

High-intensity interval training has a transformative effect on your cells.

Cycling at full pelt for just four minutes at a time can stop the ageing process. Short bursts of super-intense exercise, used in spinning classes, have been found to reverse damage to cells which decline with age.

Many people may think long bike rides are the best exercise, or at least a half-hour session pedaling at the gym. But a study found just four minutes of all-out cycling, followed by three easier minutes, are needed 12 times a week, along with another 90 minutes walking on a treadmill.


High intensity interval training, as it is known, works better than longer cycling sessions and weightlifting to halt the damage to the cells' batteries which may kick start the ageing process. Fixing defects in the DNA of these batteries, the mitochondria, is believed to help people live longer before falling ill with diseases of old age like heart failure and cancer.

'Based on everything we know, there's no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process. These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine’, says author Dr Sreekumaran Nair.

High intensity interval training works to burn more fat by producing 'excess post-oxygen consumption'. Four minutes cycling at close to maximum effort, before collapsing red-faced on the handlebars, leaves someone's resting metabolic rate elevated for longer after exercise.

The latest study shows it also works particularly well in causing cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria. This ability is lost as people grow older. The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, took biopsies from the participants' thigh muscles and compared the molecular makeup of their muscle cells to samples from sedentary volunteers.

The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49 percent increase in their mitochondrial capacity, and the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69 percent increase. Some of these reversed the decline in mitochondria caused by age, and the decline in proteins needed for muscle-building, which makes people increasingly frail as they get older.


These people did four minutes of high-intensity cycling, followed by three minutes of easier pedaling with no load, repeated only four times. The cycling sessions, on three days of the week, were coupled with two 45-minutes walks at a lower intensity on a treadmill.

It was better for ageing than resistance training, involving lower and upper body weightlifting repeated eight to 12 times on four occasions twice a week. It also beat five days a week of cycling for half an hour at a lower intensity, plus four days of weightlifting with fewer repetitions.

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