Healthy Aging: Know the Facts

By John Sandgren, MD
John Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well.

Feb 112015

This is the third of a series of installments entitled: Fitting Exercise into Your Daily Routine

Vital senior couple exercising in the gym.Maximum time efficiency requires indoor settings with readily available equipment. The workouts you design here will be useful any time of year. In Part 2 of this series, I offered resources for chair and office workouts. Here, I am offering resources that don’t use chairs. From these, you’ll be able to create exercise routines as short as 3 minutes in length. The shorter the workout, the less complete it will be, but it will still be much better than nothing. Pick and choose exercises that work a variety of muscle groups and make you feel good.

Words of Caution

If you’re just beginning to exercise, remember that people who are out of shape often start too ambitiously and wind up with sore muscles or actual injuries. Start small and build up, ideally with a few exercises several times a day.

If, as you get stronger, you cannot find time to lengthen your workouts, then progress will necessitate raising the cardio speed or the weight resistance. Please be mindful that with more strenuous workouts, muscles will need more time for warming up and cooling down.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is popular right now and is marketed as a way of creating shorter workouts. See the end of Part 4 of my previous series, Think of Exercise as a Pill, for a description of HIIT. When properly done, short intervals of high-intensity aerobic exertion inserted between longer intervals of low to moderate-intensity exertion can yield more average intensity per minute than longer, steady-tempo workouts, thereby burning the same amount of calories and fat in shorter time.[1]

Another way to shorten workouts is to do more resistance exercise than aerobic exercise, because lifting weights can take less time than cardio if you minimize reps and rest periods. Resistance exercise does benefit more than just muscle. It has been shown to burn fat, control glucose and blood pressure, and improve nerve function;[2] it may even protect the heart but it has not yet been shown to increase longevity. There are fitness gurus who advocate resistance exercise with heavy weights, claiming you don’t need aerobic workouts at all, but this is actually unproven. Current research suggests aerobic exercise and resistance exercise improve the body in rather different ways, and current science hasn’t yet figured out how to measure and compare these differing benefits.[3]

I offer three cautions about high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance exercise with heavy weights. First, at present, resistance exercise appears to be healthiest when it complements aerobic exercise instead of replacing it. (See Parts 4 and 6 of Exercise as a Pill for how it can complement.) Second, any exercise at higher intensity carries a higher risk of injury, so attain some degree of fitness before considering HIIT. Third, exercise that is excessively strenuous can break down muscle tissue rather than strengthen it.[2] Listen to your body and avoid exercise that is too effortful. (Part 4 of Exercise as a Pill tells how you can measure effort.)

Recommended Sources

I searched the terms “efficient exercise” and time saving exercise,” and recommend the following good items. You can get the books and the DVD from your library, via inter-library loan if need be.

  • Get Moving: 15-Minute Cardio Workout with Lawrence Biscontini (YouTube). Practice and memorize these steps and someday they can become a warm-up for more advanced workouts. The moves here are low impact, whereas many other short cardio videos use jumping exercises to quickly get your heart pumping.


  • The Burst Workout (Book) by Sean Foy. This book includes 12 different High Intensity Interval Training workouts of varying difficulty, excellently written with good illustrations and good tips on posture and form. Some of these exercises can be done in the office. Advice on nutrition is included which I have not reviewed and cannot comment on.
  • Men’s Health 15-Minute Workout (DVD). Four demanding 15-minute workouts are presented, some using hand weights or a jump rope. The workouts are balanced regarding aerobic vs. resistance.
  • Quick Fit – The Complete 15-Minute No-Sweat Workout (Book) by Richard Bradley, III. A well-balanced, 15-minute workout that needn’t be intense plus an expanded workout requiring a bit more time. Hand weights are needed.
  • The 90-Second Fitness Solution (Book) by Pete Cerqua. These exercises are extreme time-savers, written for women but suitable for men too. However, they are resistance exercises only. I disagree with some of the teaching points in Chapter 1—you’ll recognize which ones from reading my series—and I haven’t read the nutritional advice. The squat on page 46 can be hard on knees if you squat all the way down. He does offer an exercise for bad knees on page 78.

Watch for Part 4 of this series, “The Value of Functional Workouts.”


John SandgrenJohn Sandgren is a recent Evolve grad and a member of the Vital Aging Network’s Wellness 50+ Design Team. We are pleased to have his contribution to our knowledge base about how to age well. Thanks to Marcia Robert, MPH, for editorial assistance on this article.



[1]Kravitz L and Vella C. ACSM Current Comment: Energy Expenditure in Different Modes of Exercise. Fact Sheet from the American College of Sports Medicine,

[2]Egan B and Zierath J. Exercise Metabolism and the Molecular Regulation of Skeletal Muscle Adaptation. Cell Metab (Cell Metabolism) 2013; 17:162-84.

[3]Borsheim E and Bahr R. Effect of Exercise Intensity, Duration, and Mode on Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Sports Med (Sports Medicine) 2003; 33:1037-60