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Most important 2013 fitness discovery: Intensity counts for weight loss, health

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Whether you love waltzing, walking or whistling while you bike, the key fitness discoveries of 2013 can be summed up in one mantra: Intensity counts. From seven-minute workouts to running faster for less time, exercise researchers discovered this past year that it's how hard you work that makes the difference in health and weight loss, reported the New York Times on Dec. 25.

What stood out from all the exercise studies: To acquire health benefits and boost weight loss, you must work out vigorously. But the good news: Even beginning exercisers can win from this intense approach.

In one study, out-of-shape volunteers who ran on a treadmill for only four minutes three times a week experienced benefits ranging from blood pressure reduction to improved blood sugar control.

The results also took away those excuses for lack of time.

"One of the main reasons people give" for not exercising is that they don’t have time, said Arnt Erik Tjonna, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who led the study.

However, Tjonna emphasized that those four-minute exercisers worked hard, running at 90 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity.

What about those who are walkers, not runners? Another study demonstrated that the same "intensity matters" mantra holds true for walkers as well.

Researchers found that people who walked briskly, at a pace of 17 minutes per mile or less, enjoyed longer lives than slow walkers. And that brisk pace also helps with weight loss.

Two different studies showed that intense exercise reduces appetite. And those hunger curbing benefits were highest in those who worked out harder, not longer.

However, if you're an older person, you can stress less about intensity and more about just doing it. A study of about 3,400 people between the ages of 54 and 73 revealed that moderate physical activity is linked to improved physical and mental health, reported the Scientific American on Dec. 24.

The researchers discovered that even older adults who had recently started to exercise benefited. They were three times more apt to avoid chronic diseases and dementia.

As for those who already exercised? Even better: Those adults were seven times more likely to be healthy than inactive people, regardless of their age, sex or even whether they smoked.

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