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Fitness: Has high-intensity interval training been oversold?

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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) took the No. 1 spot on the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for the first time in 2014 and has stayed in the top 10 ever since. It’s the darling of the fitness world, and there seems to be little that HIIT can’t do.

Characterized by short bursts of high-intensity exercise (anywhere from one to four minutes) followed by short periods of rest, HIIT’s popularity largely lies in its capacity to offer big results in little time. Health and fitness benefits have proved to be similar to or better than those from moderate-intensity workouts that take twice as long.

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It’s not just the gym crowd that’s been crowing about HIIT. The research community has been bringing the young, old, fit, unfit and everyone in between into the lab to see whether HIIT’s magic is universal. By and large, it is. Most of the populations studied have benefited from meaningful gains in health and fitness. But what’s still up for debate is whether exercisers find high-energy workouts more enjoyable than moderate-intensity, steady-state exercise.

Panteleimon Ekkekakis, professor and chair in the department of kinesiology at Michigan State University, has spent most of his career studying how different intensities of exercise make people feel. He’s been following the HIIT trend since news of its benefits started circulating among exercise physiologists back in the early 2000s.

“HIIT started to gain traction at an astonishing rate and became this major global phenomenon,” said Ekkekakis, who claims there are roughly 700 published studies a year on HIIT.

In the early days, HIIT was considered more appropriate for athletes and the very fit, but it wasn’t long before fitness experts were suggesting it might prove valuable for the average Joe and Jill. Exercise psychologists like Ekkekakis were doubtful.

“It’s never going to work, because we all know that high-intensity exercise is unpleasant,” he said.

To gain the much-ballyhooed benefits of HIIT workouts, you need to train at 85 to 95 per cent of your maximum effort (peak heart rate), which isn’t for everyone. The no-pain, no-gain philosophy of exercise has always been embraced by the few, not the masses. Despite this, researchers started publishing data suggesting HIIT is not only well tolerated by average exercisers, they actually find it more enjoyable than less intense workouts.

The combination of enjoyment with the promise of significant results in less time is the holy grail in terms of exercise adherence. Lack of time has been cited as one of the main reasons so few people exercise on a regular basis.

Still, Ekkekakis wasn’t buying it.

“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” he said of why the exercise dropout rate is so high. “Most people have discretionary time — they just choose not to allocate that discretionary time to exercise, presumably because they find other things that make them feel better or give them more satisfaction.”

Citing a preponderance of evidence proving that intensity drives people away, Ekkekakis decided to take a closer look at HIIT’s track record for long-term adherence. The results were published in a recent edition of Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Along with colleague Stuart Biddle from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, Ekkekakis identified eight quality studies comparing HIIT to moderate-intensity exercise, all of which included followups of at least 12 months. What they found is unlikely to make HIIT fans happy.

“While non-adherence and dropout represent great challenges for any form of exercise, especially in unsupervised settings, these problems were shown to be exacerbated with HIIT,” Ekkekakis and Biddle stated in the study. “Compared to moderate-intensity exercise, more individuals assigned to HIIT did not adhere to their prescription when unsupervised, most likely because they could not.”

Not all the study subjects gave up exercise altogether — some just weren’t as motivated to sustain the same intensity on their own as when they were under the watchful eye of an instructor. They took the workouts down a notch or two into a more comfortable, moderate-intensity range. That’s not a bad thing — it’s just that when combined with the short duration of most prescribed HIIT workouts, health and fitness benefits are likely to be less significant than advertised.

So, where did the idea that exercisers preferred HIIT over less intense workouts come from if all eight studies proved that the majority of people eventually gave up on HIIT altogether?

It turns out gauging exercise enjoyment is harder than you might think. People are in no condition to answer questions about how they feel while in the middle of a tough workout. Any inquiries need to wait until after the workout is over. With all the hard work done and most people feeling accomplished with their efforts, their feelings are much different than when they were in full sweat mode.

“After exercise, almost everyone feels good,” Ekkekakis agreed. “But they might feel good because the darn thing is done.”

Does that mean HIIT has been oversold as a solution to sedentary habits? Probably. But that doesn’t make it a bad option. It’s just not for everyone, which puts it on par with most other workouts. The gauge of an effective workout isn’t how successful it is in a lab, but whether you want to do it all over again on your own.

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Secrets of 'SuperAgers' with superior memories into their 80s – Herald & Review

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Despite volunteering and working out at the gym several days each week, socializing frequently with friends and family, reading all manner of books and doing daily crossword puzzles, 85-year-old Carol Siegler is restless.



85-year-old Carol Seigler is a SuperAger




“I’m bored. I feel like a Corvette being used as a grocery cart,” said Siegler, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Palatine.

Siegler is a cognitive “SuperAger,” possessing a brain as sharp as people 20 to 30 years younger. She is part of an elite group enrolled in the Northwestern SuperAging Research Program, which has been studying the elderly with superior memories for 14 years. The program is part of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

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“I’ve auditioned twice for ‘Jeopardy!’ and did well enough on it to be invited to the live auditions. Then Covid hit,” said Siegler.

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“Who knows how well I would have done,” she added with a chuckle. “What I have told my children and anybody else who asked me: ‘I may know an awful lot about Beethoven and Liszt, but I know very little about Beyoncé and Lizzo.'”

What is a SuperAger?

To be a SuperAger, a term coined by the Northwestern researchers, a person must be over 80 and undergo extensive cognitive testing. Acceptance in the study only occurs if the person’s memory is as good or better than cognitively normal people in their 50s and 60s.

“SuperAgers are required to have outstanding episodic memory — the ability to recall everyday events and past personal experiences — but then SuperAgers just need to have at least average performance on the other cognitive tests,” said cognitive neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg School of Medicine.

Only about 10% of people who apply to the program meet those criteria, said Rogalski, who developed the SuperAger project.

“It’s important to point out when we compare the SuperAgers to the average agers, they have similar levels of IQ, so the differences we’re seeing are not just due to intelligence,” she said.



Carol Seigler

SuperAger Carol Seigler is shown with her grandchildren (from left): Alex Siegler, 23; Elizabeth Siegler, 27; Carol Siegler, 85; Megan Boyle, 18; Conor Boyle, 17; Jacob Siegler, 29.




Once accepted, colorful 3D scans are taken of the brain and cognitive testing and brain scans are repeated every year or so. Analysis of the data over the years have yielded fascinating results.

Bigger, tau-free neurons

Most people’s brains shrink as they grow older. In SuperAgers, however, studies have shown the cortex, responsible for thinking, decision-making and memory, remains much thicker and shrinks more slowly than those of people in their 50s and 60s.

A SuperAger’s brain, usually donated to the research program by participants after death, also has bigger, healthier cells in the entorhinal cortex. It’s “one of the first areas of the brain to get ‘hit’ by Alzheimer’s disease,” said Tamar Gefen, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern, in an email.

The entorhinal cortex has direct connections to another key memory center, the hippocampus, and “is essential for memory and learning,” said Gefen, the lead author of a November study comparing the brains of deceased SuperAgers with those of older and younger cognitively normal people and people diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.



Carol Seigler

Carol Seigler learned to read at a young age.




SuperAger brains had three times fewer tau tangles, or abnormal formations of protein within nerve cells, than the brains of cognitively healthy controls, the study also found. Tau tangles are a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

“We believe that larger neurons in the entorhinal cortex suggest that they are more ‘structurally sound’ and can perhaps withstand neurofibrillary tau tangle formation,” Gefen said.

Gefen also found the brains of SuperAgers had many more von economo neurons, a rare type of brain cell, which so far has been found in humans, great apes, elephants, whales, dolphins and songbirds. The corkscrew-like von economo neurons are thought to allow rapid communication across the brain. Another theory is that the neurons give humans and great apes an intuitive advantage in social situations.

The von economo neurons were found in the anterior cingulate cortex, which forms a collar in the front of the brain linking the cognitive, reasoning side with the emotional, feeling side. The anterior cingulate is thought to be important for regulating emotions and paying attention — another key to good memory.

Taken together, these discoveries appear to point to a genetic link to becoming a SuperAger, Gefen said. However, she added: “The only way to confirm whether SuperAgers are born with larger entorhinal neurons would be to measure these neurons from birth until death. That obviously isn’t possible.”

Can environment play a role?

SuperAgers share similar traits, said Rogalski, who is also the associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer Disease at Feinberg. These folks stay active physically. They tend to be positive. They challenge their brain every day, reading or learning something new — many continue to work into their 80s. SuperAgers are also social butterflies, surrounded by family and friends, and can often be found volunteering in the community.

“When we compare SuperAgers to normal agers we see that they tend to endorse more positive relations with others,” Rogalski said.

“This social connectedness may be a feature of SuperAgers that distinguishes them from those who are still doing well but who are what we would call an average or normal ager,” she said.

Looking back at her life, Carol Siegler recognizes many SuperAger traits. As a young child during the Great Depression, she taught herself to spell and play piano. She learned to read Hebrew at her grandfather’s knee, poring over his weekly Yiddish newspaper.

“I have a great memory. I’ve always had it,” Siegler said. “I was always the kid that you could say, ‘Hey, what’s Sofia’s phone number?’ and I would just know it off the top of my head.”

She graduated from high school at 16 and immediately went to college. Siegler got her pilot’s license at age 23 and later started a family business in her basement that grew to have 100 employees. At 82, she won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for her age group, which she said she entered “as a gag.”

After seeing an advertisement for the SuperAger program on television, Siegler thought it too sounded like fun. Being chosen as a SuperAger was a thrill, Siegler said, but she is aware she was born lucky.

“Somebody with the same abilities or talents as a SuperAger who lived in a place where there was very little way to express them, might never know that he or she had them,” she said. “And that is a true shame.”

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Brain expert: The No. 1 thing that sets 'SuperAgers' apart from people with 'weak memory skills' – CNBC

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There is a group of people that longevity researchers call “SuperAgers,” who are in their 80s and beyond, but have the cognitive function of those decades younger.

Conversely, it’s possible for your brain to be older than your chronological age, which is what we want to avoid.

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As a neuroscience researcher and author of “The Age-Proof Brain,” I’ve found that it’s our behaviors, not just our genes, that have a powerful impact on our brain’s destiny.  

So what sets SuperAgers apart from people who have weak memory skills? According to a 2021 study that followed SuperAgers over the course of 18 months, one key differentiator was that they kept learning new things throughout their life.

SuperAgers learn something new every day

Think of the brain like a bank account. We make “deposits” — or new connections between our brain cells — by learning. Our memories are housed in these connections.

As we age, we naturally lose some of those connections. It’s like making a withdrawal every year. But the more deposits we make throughout our lives, the less our net worth is affected by these withdrawals.

One study found that adults with more years of education had more active frontal lobes when they took memory tests. Activity in the frontal lobe is associated with better memory.

But higher education isn’t the only way to maintain memory. In another study, even if individuals had lower levels of education, if they attended lectures, read, wrote and read often, they had memory scores on par with those with more education.

Which types of learning are best for brain health?

Keeping your brain healthy is not all about Sudoku, Wordle or crossword puzzles. Those can have cognitive benefits, but you are mostly exercising with the knowledge and skills you already have.

What does make significantly new connections in the brain is learning new skills and information. And the process should be challenging: SuperAgers embrace — and sometimes crave — that feeling of frustration when they learn something outside of their expertise.

‘Cross-train’ your brain

Approach learning the way you would with fitness training. You wouldn’t go to the gym and only work out your forearms. Eventually, you would look like Popeye.

The same goes for the brain. Learning a new language, for example, works out different parts of the brain than a new sport or instrument does.

You can cross-train your brain by mixing mental and physical learning activities. Get out your calendar and plan different types of activities using this plan:

  • Day 1: Learn something mentally stimulating, such as listening to a podcast or taking an online course.
  • Day 2:  Do something that requires learning through movement, such as a new sport, dance or yoga pose.
  • Day 3:  Be social. Grab coffee with a friend or go to a dinner party. Yes, social interaction is a form of learning that has been associated with staving off dementia.

No matter what it is, learning new things keeps your brain young. So if you discovered something you didn’t know before from reading this article, you’re already helping your brain age at a slower pace.

Marc Milstein, PhD, is a brain health expert and author of “The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies to Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Off Dementia.” He earned both his PhD in Biological Chemistry and his Bachelor of Science in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UCLA, and has conducted research on genetics, cancer biology and neuroscience. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Want to earn more and work less? Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event on Dec. 13 at 12 p.m. ET.

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Study Finds That Risk of Myocarditis After SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination is Increased But Very Low – Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology

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November 25, 2022 —  A large study found that myocarditis after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination was rare but higher in younger males, especially after the second mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccine, suggesting that vaccine type, age and sex should be considered when vaccinating. The study is published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) https://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.220676

“In this study, we found higher observed rates of myocarditis after receipt of mRNA vaccines than expected, but absolute rates were low,” writes Dr. Naveed Janjua, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver, BC, with coauthors. 

Researchers analyzed population health data from the BC COVID-19 Cohort, which included more than 10.2 million doses of mRNA vaccines administered to people aged 12 years and older from Dec. 15, 2020, to Mar. 10, 2022. Almost 7 million were BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) doses and 3.2 million were mRNA-1273 (Moderna) doses. The researchers identified people who were admitted to hospital or visited an emergency department because of myocarditis within 7 and 21 days of receiving the vaccine.  

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On average, the rate of myocarditis 21 days after vaccination was 1.37 per 100 000 people compared with an expected rate of 0.39 per 100 000 people not vaccinated. The highest rates of myocarditis were in males (rate: 2.15/100 000), among those aged 18–29 (rate: 2.97/100 00), after the second dose (rate: 2.27/100 000 doses) and in people vaccinated with mRNA-1273 (Moderna) (rate: 1.75/100 000). Among males aged 18–29 who received the mRNA-1273 (Moderna) vaccine, the rate was 22.9/100 000 doses. After the third dose, rates of myocarditis were lower, including among people aged 18–29. 

“The overall rates of myocarditis per 100 000 doses were still very low for both vaccine products,” write the authors. However, they state that their findings “… support the preferential use of the BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech) vaccine over the mRNA-1273  (Moderna) vaccine for people aged 18–29 years.” 

A US analysis estimated that 11 000 COVID-19 cases, 560 hospital admissions, 138 ICU admissions and 6 deaths from COVID-19 could be prevented per million second doses of mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine administered to males aged 12–29 years, compared with 39–47 expected cases of myocarditis after SARS-CoV-2 vaccination. 

“[T]he benefits of vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in reducing the severity of COVID-19, hospital admission and deaths far outweigh the risk of developing myocarditis. … Thus, continued vaccination of this group, along with monitoring of adverse events, including myocarditis, should remain the preferred strategy,” the authors conclude. 

For more information: https://www.cmaj.ca/ 

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