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Rest is as crucial as exercise, study shows

Spinning is a high-intensity exercise. Participants would see more benefits if there was a combination of high-intensity and low-intensity pedalling. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Spinning is a high-intensity exercise. Participants would see more benefits if there was a combination of high-intensity and low-intensity pedalling. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Published Feb 11, 2013


London - If your resolution to exercise more is leaving you tired out, put your feet up.

Research suggests that short rest periods are just as important as the exercise itself.

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Taking it easy now and again not only allows the muscles to recover, it also makes the body fitter faster, believe sports scientists at Stirling University in Scotland.

Their study was of keen cyclists but they think that men and women who are simply trying to get a bit fitter could also benefit from building periods of rest into their exercise programme.

In the study, 12 cyclists were split into two groups. One did bursts of high-intensity exercise, interspersed with short rest periods, three times a week. In each session, they pedalled hard, but below sprint pace, for four minutes, then stopped for two minutes, before repeating the pattern five times.

The second group rode continuously for an hour at a slightly easier pace, three times a week.

After four weeks, the two groups swopped programmes.

Tests showed the first programme, which involved a mixture of tough training and taking it easy, to be the most beneficial, leading to twice as big an improvement in power and performance.

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Researcher Stuart Galloway, an exercise physiologist, said: “It is a case of training smarter.

“We found in these cyclists that if you can make the hard sessions harder and the easy sessions easier, then you will likely see better progress.

“Amateur athletes tend to spend a lot of their training in the moderate-intensity bracket which in our study showed smaller improvements.

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“For the wider public, most people were advised to do moderate-intensity exercise for around three hours a week.

“More recently, high-intensity bouts of exercise such as spin cycling classes or interval running have been presented as the best option.

“We would suggest that while high-intensity is still important, it’s the combination with low intensity which has the biggest impact.”

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It is thought that muscles find it harder to recover from long periods of exercise, than from short bursts, even if they are physically tougher.

Dr Angus Hunter, co-author of the study which appears in the Journal of Applied Physiology, said: “Your muscles may be fatigued more quickly when you work at high-intensity, but they recover more quickly too.”

This could leave people feeling less tired in between exercise sessions.

Galloway said: “Often everything merged into the middle, so the hard sessions aren’t hard enough and the easy session aren’t easy enough.

“If you feel fatigued after exercising and are taking too long to recover, it is probably because you have done a session of continuous, moderate-intensity exercise.”

The study is one several to extol the virtues of short, sharp bursts of exercise.

Aberdeen University research suggests that short, sharp burst of exercise are better at warding off heart disease than much longer, but less strenuous, sessions.

Concentrated effort may also burn off more calories – as well as being easier to fit into a hectic day. – Daily Mail

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