Middle Aged? Step Up Your Workout with High Interval Walking

by CMarie

High-intensity walking with intervals of low to moderate intensity has been shown to reduce age-related chronic disease and ill health.

Life expectancy is longer today, but is not an indicator of improved health and well-being. Physical inactivity continues to plague our generation and we continually seek new ways to combat the terrible consequences of a sedentary life. One way to combat long periods of inactivity is to add intensity to your walking routine.

Are We Living Longer or Only Existing Longer?

In 1980, average life expectancy increased from 74 to 78 years.  But are they healthy years?  According to recent research, they are not.  In a study of approximately 1,900 middle aged men and women who had a checkup in 1970, those in poor health later proved (according to Medicare records) to have developed debilitating diseases in their elder years, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Are we Really Living Longer?
Are we Really Living Longer?

A Japanese study conducted at the Shinsu University Graduate School of Medicine hypothesized that middle-aged and elderly persons who exercised would exhibit decreased risk of age-related diseases and disability.  The study used high-intensity interval walking as the means of exercise.

High Intensity Interval Walking

High-intensity interval walking means intervals of low-intensity walking (40% of peak aerobic capacity) alternated with intervals of high-intensity walking (70% of aerobic capacity).  The reasoning behind this means of exercise is that the human body is designed to walk all day.  Therefore, higher intensity training in a reduced amount of time is needed to compensate for long periods of inactivity.

Adding Oomph to Your Walk
Adding Oomph to Your Walk

Results of the Study

Health results in study participants included:


  • Increased knee extension (13%) and flexion (17%)
  • Increased aerobic capacity for cycling (8%)
  • Increased aerobic capacity for walking (9%)
  • Reduction in resting systolic blood pressure

Improved Blood Pressure Results


Interval Training Increases Aerobic Capacity
Interval Training Increases Aerobic C...


The authors of the study explain that high-intensity interval walking may protect middle-aged persons from high blood pressure, declining muscle strength and reduced aerobic capacity.  They conclude: 

Guidelines for exercise in healthy older adults should encourage at least some higher-intensity component during walking.

Suggestions for High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training has primarily been the domain of elite athletes.  While high-intensity interval training can be applied to exercises such as pushups, sit-ups, squats, it is not recommended that beginners attempt strenuous activities.

The Mayo Clinic describes high-intensity interval training as follows:


  •  Interval training is simply alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity. 


The Mayo Clinic suggests walking and then jogging, or walking and very brisk walking.  The Clinic lists the following benefits of interval training in addition to prevention of chronic disease: 


  1. Weight loss – high-intensity interval training burns more calories in less time.
  2. Lengthened interest – interval training is less boring than steady exercises, especially if you are on a treadmill or stationary bike.
  3. Flexibility to exercise - You can perform high-intensity interval exercise at home or in the gym and no exercise machines are necessary.

Precautions for Beginners

  • High-intensity interval training is not recommended for those with chronic disease or those who have not exercised regularly.
  • Be careful to avoid “overuse” injuries.  If you begin exercising unused muscles too fast, you can strain or injure bones, tendons and muscles.
  • If you are in a hurry to get fit, keep in mind that an injury will keep you from exercising for as long as it takes to heal.  You will lose more ground than you gained.

High Intensity Interval Training – A New Way to Stay Healthy

I practice high-intensity interval exercise by walking around a full sized gym twice, then running around once and repeating the activity three times.  I also use swimming for high-intensity interval training by doing a relaxing and slow stroke for two lengths of the pool, followed by a strenuous and fast paced stroke for one length.  I repeat this 10 times because I am used to swimming for long periods of time.


I have not lost weight yet (and perhaps never will!) but high-intensity intervals have helped me tremendously with boredom.  My workouts seem to take half the time they used to, even though I am actually working out for longer periods of time.  Try it yourself with your favorite exercise, listen to the precautions and take it slow.

I do high intensity interval training when I swim.
I do high intensity interval training...

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.

Updated: 05/13/2013, CMarie
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CMarie on 05/19/2013

You are welcome Tolovaj, thank you for the comment!

Tolovaj on 05/19/2013

Living longer or only existing longer - I think you nailed it with this one. Activity is certainly the key to better quality of life and I can see examples of its benefits every day. Thanks for the tips on high interval walking!

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