CREATING A NEW ENERGY SOURCE IN AN OLDER RUNNER
As one ages, the physiological systems of the body that make the runner a running machine become diminished and both times and strength are compromised. The main systems of the body affected by the aging process are the cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular systems. The aging process cannot be avoided, but there may be some ways to sustain these systems operating at their peak, as we age. While there are several avenues to pursue both physiologically and psychologically to reduce this decline, it is these previous systems that are crucial to success in any running endeavor. Runners need to consider a training program that maintains these systems at their optimal functioning level. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program. Interval training is not new; however, new research reported in the March 2017 issue of the journal of CELL METABOLISM demonstrates that older adults can benefit from this type of training.
According to the study, high intensity interval training has a significant impact on the energy organelles of cells, known as mitochondria, in both young (18-30) and older adults (65-80). Put simply mitochondria are the “power houses” of the cell and provide the one needed source of energy in the human body known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The more ATP available to the body, the more work can be done. To produce this, each participant was asked to ride stationary bikes three times a week and walk at a reasonable pace on a treadmill. Riding included several bouts of intense cycling and less intense bouts in between. Another group did weight training two times a week and a third group did both biking and strength training. All groups participated in this program for five weeks. The third group did not expend as much energy in their training as did the first or second group. All groups demonstrated physiological improvements in muscle mass, insulin sensitivity and body mass index; however, the first group of both young and older participants displayed significant improvements in mitochondria capacity. As for the strength training group, they maintained more muscle mass than would the average population not participating in this type of training.
This study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, demonstrates the importance of exercise in a wide variety of ages in both male and female subjects. Besides the importance of strength training in all ages, which maintains muscle mass and strength, what’s interesting about this study is at the cellular level, where mitochondria are being expanded and developed. Furthermore, it is this type of training (interval) that pushes the body to produce this type of change in these organelles.
Based on this study, those participants involved in the HIIT program demonstrated a significant increase in mitochondria capacity. As for the older participants, they saw a 69% increase in mitochondria.
Furthermore, a research study carried out at the University of Southern Denmark determined that the mitochondria of endurance athletes are constructed such that they can produce 25% more energy than non-athletes. Based on these two studies such an increase in mitochondria density and effectiveness should sustain the necessary energy to run at a fast pace and maintain that pace for a longer period. Running at or near what use to be a good time for any distance can be maintained because the engine of the human body continues to provide the necessary fuel to keep it operating at an optimal level.
Finally, in an article appearing in The New York Times entitled, “The Year in Fitness: Exercise, Add Intensity, Live to See Another Year,” a summary of the benefits of adding intensity to your workouts is illustrated. One of the most interesting aspects of the article was a reference made to 103-year-old Frenchman who set a world record for the number of miles pedaled in one hour. To set this record, the participant had to train consistently at an intense level. While not all older runners could train at this level, it is evident that maybe our thinking about the concept of intensity for this age group is changing. While the training discussed in this article is not HIIT, it nonetheless demonstrates that to maintain a maximal performing machine exertion and intensity must be a part of any training schedule.
While the first study did not employ running as a modem for their research, it did demonstrate that high intensity interval training leads to mitochondria development. As for the University of Southern Denmark’s study, they utilized endurance athletes (marathoners, cross-country skiers and ball games athletes) to demonstrate the difference in the power of mitochondria over non-exercisers. As for the final article, it supports the importance of adding a little intensity to everyday workouts for optimal performance at any age.
Unfortunately, not everyone is suited for this type of training nor are they prepared physically and mentally for the demands of this type of training. All runners should be physically cleared by a physician to undertake such a vigorous program. Having attained the clearance to participate in a HIIT program or exercise at a more intense rate, whether in biking or running, should pay off in big dividends.
Nair, Sreekumaran K., et al, Enhanced Protein Translation Underlines Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Older Humans. CELL METABOLISM. Vol. 25, Issue 3, p581-592, 7 March 2017.
Nielsen, Joachim, et al, Plasticity in mitochondrial cristae density allows metabolic capacity modulation in human skeletal muscle, THE JOURNAL OF PHYSIOLOGY (2016). DOI: 10. 1113/JP273040
Reynolds, Gretchen. The Year in Fitness: Exercise, Intensity, Live to See Another Year. THE NEW YORK TIMES. Dec. 27, 2017.