Daily Mail

High-intensity workouts are safe... even with heart problems


I HAVE been a big fan of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) since 2012, when I met Professor Jamie Timmons, who pioneered the research in this area.

He said I’d see significan­t improvemen­ts in my aerobic fitness and blood sugar levels if I committed to just a few minutes’ exercise a week. And, sure enough, after a few weeks of doing very short bursts of high- intensity training on an exercise bike, I noticed big improvemen­ts in my overall fitness.

But soon after I started extolling the virtues of HIIT, the broadcaste­r Andrew Marr had a stroke, which initially appeared to be caused by overdoing it on a rowing machine.

As a result, many people came to believe that HIIT is potentiall­y dangerous, and best avoided unless you’re young, fit and healthy.

But the truth is that HIIT, done properly, appears to be safe, even for people with heart problems. And a recent study by University Hos- pitals Coventry and Warwickshi­re NHS Trust adds support to that claim. They put 382 heart patients — average age 59 — through a twice-weekly exercise programme: either 40 minutes of moderately intense cycling, or ten minutes of intense cycling, broken up into one-minute bursts, followed by a minute of gentle peddling.

After eight weeks, all the participan­ts had improved their fitness, but the HIIT group saw the biggest improvemen­ts. The researcher­s concluded that this approach is safe and effective, even for those with pre-existing heart disease.

So what happened in the case of Andrew Marr? When we later met, he told me that before his stroke, he’d had a couple of mini-strokes, or TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks), which he’d ignored, not realising their significan­ce. On one occasion, for example, he’d briefly lost the power of speech, which he put down to overwork.

Doing vigorous exercise may have dislodged a pre-existing blood clot, but it’s unlikely to have been the real cause. The tragedy is that if he’d been aware of some of the common warning signs of a TIA (e.g. slurred speech or facial drooping), he could have been seen by medics and a fullblown stroke likely averted.

With any form of exercise, it’s best to start gradually. But you shouldn’t be afraid of injecting a little bit of intensity, even if it’s just pushing yourself a little bit harder when out on a walk.

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