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Who says senior citizens can't become more fit and healthy by doing only a tiny amount of exercise? A Scottish trial involving 12 pensioners shows that High-Intensity Training may be the way forward.

Staying physically fit and healthy requires commitment. It takes both balanced dietary habits and regular physical activity, doesn't it? As we age, keeping the exercise up may become increasingly challenging — but it is also often seen as the key to a long and independent life. 

That's why Helen, the 90-year old mother of a friend, does so much walking. "Yes, I walk every single day," she proudly told me. "I'd say I walk at least two hours every day. I take care of all my own needs." A commitment to health explains why Helen doesn't ever have her son and his wife over at her place. Instead, she prefers to visit them, ensuring that she gets enough walking in. Her commitment to walking is so strong that she does it even when it rains, snows, or the weather is boiling hot. Helen doesn't have any household help and does all her cooking from scratch. She shops at the farmers' market — the one an hour away from her home of course — and carries all her fresh produce back home on foot.

"When you stop being active, you just die," Helen firmly believes. But not everybody can be like her. Plenty of pensioners find it difficult to even leave their homes, and exercising squarely belongs to the realm of their distant pasts.

Let's face it: not every person wants to be quite as active as Helen, but most would indeed like to improve or maintain their health. 

Get Fit In Six Seconds?

Enter High-Intensity Training, HIT. A pilot study conducted by Abertay University in Scotland involving 12 pensioners shows that it is possible to improve health and fitness and reduce blood pressure by engaging in an intense workout that lasts only a very short period of time. Just how short? Oh, like, six seconds! That's right — only six seconds of extremely vigorous exercise could be life-changing for people of any age. 

The 12 pensioners who participated in the study came into the lab twice a week for six weeks to work the exercise bikes like their lives depended on it, for six seconds. After their heart rates recovered, they would go for it again. They worked up to a grand total of one minute by the end of the six-week trial.

Researcher Dr John Babraj said: "They were not exceptionally fast, but for someone of that age they were."

By the end of the six-week trial, the participating 12 pensioners reported a marked improvement in their overall health and fitness. Not only had their blood pressure come down by an average of nine percent, oxygen reached their muscles more efficiently and the participants said daily activities like getting up from a chair or walking the dog became less difficult. 

Keeping Fit Benefits All Of Society

Dr Babraj explained why their findings mean good news, not just for individual senior citizens but also for the UK, which operates a social healthcare system: "We've got an aging population and if we don't encourage them to be active, the economic burden of that is going to be astronomical. A lot of diseases are associated with sedentary behavior — like cardiovascular disease and diabetes — but if we can keep people active and functioning then we can reduce the risk."

He added: "Also on the social side, they are less likely to be socially active and will interact with people more."

While people can try this High-Intensity Training at home, they are best off consulting their doctors before starting. The underlying idea is simple and promising however: you can do anything for only six seconds. "The easiest way to do it yourself is to run up a hill, the steeper the hill, the harder it's going to be, give it everything you've got for six seconds," Dr Babraj said.

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