The promise of high intensity

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Veniece Fagerlin, left, said her high intensity interval training workout consists of three sets of eight exercises performed for 30 seconds apiece with the intensity level increasing with each set of intervals. All of the exercises are done without additional weights.

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

It’s no panacea, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could save sedentary older women from the ravages of diabetes and cardiovascular trouble, says a Durango exercise coach.

Veniece Fagerlin, one class away from a degree in exercise physiology at Fort Lewis College, came to the conclusion from her senior seminar project, which was directed by Carrie Meyer, a professor of exercise science.

Fagerlin, an instructor in the wellness program at Mercy Regional Medical Center and elsewhere through her business, Measurably Fit, worked four times a week for six weeks with eight women ages 40 to 65 who were nonexercisers and nonsmokers who had never received a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease.

Nine members of a control group who fit the same parameters did nothing.

Fitness fanatics and the faint of heart should find something beneficial in HIIT, which is based on alternating intense bursts of exercise with momentary rest, Fagerlin said. The regimen is a butt-buster but an efficient one. She gets students out of their sweats and ready for street clothes in 20 minutes.

Students do a set of eight exercises – such as push ups, lunges, planks, torso twists and jumping jacks – one after another for 30 seconds each, then rest for 90 seconds. They go through the routine three times, increasing the tempo each time.

The goal was to determine if HIIT could reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of signs that warn of danger. People who exhibit three of the five signs – weight increase, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose, high triglycerides and low HDL (the good cholesterol) – are diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome, which put them on the precipice of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

“The statistics are scary,” Fagerlin said. “One in four American adults are pre-diabetic, and one in three meets the criteria for metabolic syndrome.”

Fagerlin, 55, a certified personal trainer with American College of Sports Medicine, was a pre-diabetic who pulled herself out of the hole with the exercises she teaches. A former body-building competitor in Louisiana, she can bench 170 pounds and leg press 850 pounds.

“Each student determines what is low, medium and high pace,” Fagerlin said. “It’s subjective, it’s an individual’s perception of intensity.”

But during six weeks, the participants’ perception of intensity changed, she said. What they strained to do early on, later came with less effort and at an accelerated pace.

At the outset, at midpoint and at the end of the six weeks, Fagerlin used a glucometer, an instrument that takes a blood sample, to measure triglycerides, glucose and cholesterol.

Members of the control group didn’t change their lifestyle but attended measuring sessions.

“They (the exercisers) were happy with the results,” Fagerlin said. “Each had a victory – losing weight, losing waist size or lowering the cholesterol count.”

Participants were solicited via newspaper and radio public service announcements.

Stephanie Moran, 60, an adult-education teacher, was delighted with her results.

“It was astonishing,” Moran said. “I had more energy, more flexibility and my cholesterol dropped 42 points.”

Moran said muscle memory from periodic exercising through the years returned quickly. She wishes she could reduce fats in her diet, but she didn’t change her eating habits during the six weeks.

Fagerlin concluded as a result of the study that HIIT didn’t significantly reduce all the symptoms of metabolic syndrome in women 40 to 65 years old. But she saw some trends, Fagerlin said, that merit further research during a greater period of time and that use symptomatic subjects.

She plans to submit the study for a conference about evidence-based practices in Denver in November and for publication in Metamorphosis, an undergraduate journal, Fagerlin said. She also wants to start high-intensive resistance training aimed at the main muscle groups – chest, back, legs and arms.

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