Elderly walkers can improve their health by adding brief bursts of intensity to a minimal weekly walking routine, say health researchers from Japan. 

Using a method called interval walking training, study participants achieved a 14% increase in peak aerobic capacity (a standard measure of fitness) and a 17% decrease in lifestyle-related disease, reported Shizue Masuki, Ph.D., of Shinshu University. 

In interval walking training, people walk at 70% of their peak aerobic capacity for three minutes, then at 40% of capacity for the next three minutes. This pattern is repeated for five or more sets, using an accelerometer to gauge when peak capacity is achieved.

In the study, more than 650 walkers over age 65 used this method during five months of exercise. The results showed that interval walking training outperformed the recommendation of the American Heart Association, which calls for 75 minutes of weekly, high-intensity exercise to improve health. In contrast, only 50 minutes a week of interval walking training was needed to achieve significant health improvements, reported Masuki. After 50 minutes, improvements plateaued, she said.

Interval walking training is easy to maintain, motivating, and does not require expensive equipment, Masuki concluded.

The study was published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings.