While exercise is generally good for the elderly, high intensity interval training is especially beneficial and may even extend life, say researchers from Norway.

Older adults running and walking in a group in exercise gear on a wooded path.
The Generation 100 exercise study followed participants for five years. Photo credit: Erlend Lånke Solbu/NRK

More than 1,500 people in their seventies participated in an exercise study called the Generation 100. Those who had five years of high-intensity interval training showed increased mental and physical quality of life, improved fitness and lived longer than the average Norwegian, reported Dorthe Stensvold, Ph.D., of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. 

“Among most 70 to 77-year-olds in Norway, 90% will survive the next five years. In the Generation 100 study, more than 95% of the 1,500 participants survived,” she said.

Study participants were cohorted in three groups. Some performed high intensity interval  training twice per week, others trained at a moderate level for 50 minutes twice weekly, and a control group was advised to exercise according to the Norwegian health authorities’ recommendations, but had no training through the study. 

The researchers defined high intensity as “training that gets you really sweaty and out of breath,” Stensvold said. “Now our hope is that the national recommendations for physical activity will be modified to encourage older people even more strongly to do high intensity training — either as their only form of exercise or to supplement more moderate training.”

One wrinkle in the results was that one in five control group participants actually performed high intensity training on their own. This could be why they ended up between the two other groups in terms of survival, Stensvold and team proposed.

A video detailing the study and results is available on YouTube. Full findings were published in The BMJ

The Generation 100 study is a long-term, large randomized controlled trial of exercise in a general population of older adults aged 70 to 77 years.