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Are you a non-responder?

Everyone gets some benefit from exercise, but some get super responses while others get a mild to low response.

Everyone gets some benefit from exercise, but some get super responses while others get a mild to low response.

Last week in the UK the Horizon television programme showed an episode dedicated to exercise. It has been the talk of the media. Why?

Some people find the feeling of exhilaration after training a real motivation
- Kathryn Borg

The message everyone is picking up is that to get healthy you don’t have to follow government guidelines and exercise every day.

Unfortunately this is typical of how people read the information given on a high-profile television programme. The documentary was called The Truth About Exercise.

The important message was that, like diets, exercise is ‘one size fits all’. Government guidelines will not suit everyone. Exercise needs to be bespoke to fit different people’s abilities and, in particular, their genes.

The interviewer started off in Loughborough University in the UK. Many of the UK’s Olympic hopefuls train regularly here, most people keep fit to burn calories and keep their weight down; some train for fitness because they enjoy it.

Some find the feeling of exhilaration after training a real motivation. The interviewer was asked to jog for a period of time and was then told he would use 16 calories per minute at the pace he was jogging.

The scientists explained that at that pace he would need 55 minutes to use up calories gained when eating a muffin or banana. Clearly this wasn’t a satisfactory way to effectively lose weight.

I would add here that at no time during this programme was the benefit of weight-bearing exercise discussed. This is something anyone involved in exercise would immediately know has a massive increase on burning calories.

The fact that we store fat deep within our body, near our organs, as well as in our blood stream was looked at in some depth. The interviewer admitted his father had Type 2 diabetes and it was at this stage that the effect of genes and DNA were mentioned.

The next set of scientists asked the interviewer to eat a huge fried breakfast, and then tested the level of fat in his blood stream after four hours. This was visibly increased.

He was then asked to take a very long walk, so he did a 90-minute brisk walk. The following day he ate the same breakfast again and the fat test showed a reduction of fat in the bloodstream.

This was due, the scientists explained, to the fact that the exercise had triggered an enzyme relating to how the body processes the fat. The result was a third less fat in the blood stream. He felt that this length of this walk was not a practical daily occupation for someone living a normal life. So he went to look for another form of exercise.

At the University of Nottingham they were looking at another way of exercise instead of the gym and instead of the same guidelines for everyone. A four-year study of 1,000 people showed that everyone responded differently and produced the definition of ‘super responders’ (those who really showed a difference after time in the gym) and ‘non-responders’ who, no matter how much exercise they did, experienced no change.

The blood test they carried out on the interviewer was to show where he fitted in this definition of response. It was added that everyone gets some benefit from exercise, but some get super responses while others get a mild to low response. They then introduced their time-saving regime which was as good, they say, as spending five days a week in the gym.

The regime involves a new protocol which is based on 20 seconds of super high intensity cycling on a stationary bike, resting, and then repeating twice more. This should be done three times a week. It must be clarified that this is really high intensity and those with a medical condition could not even attempt it.

The interviewer was exhausted at the end of it, but was not sweating, just breathless. The science behind this is that it breaks down the glycogen in the muscle so the muscle takes the glycogen out of the system to compensate. It is activated to do this by high intensity exercise.

This has to be carried out for at least six weeks before an improvement is seen. The interviewer decided to try it. In the meantime, he went to obesity expert Dr J.A. Levine, who introduced him to NEAT. This in non-exercise activity thermogenisis. This is monitored by wearing ‘fidget pants’. These have a ‘chip’ inserted to check movement over a 24-hour period. So a pair of these pants were given to the interviewer, a waitress and an author who visited the gym regularly.

The results were very interesting. The waitress showed the highest amount of NEAT in huge bursts.

The author showed sporadic bursts (obviously around the time he was at the gym as he was seated throughout the day) and the interviewer who did no exercise, and was seated showed the lowest.

The results of the gene test and the six weeks of high-intensity training were fascinating. On re-test, after six weeks, the blood glucose response showed a 15 per cent improvement and a 23 per cent improvement of insulin sensitivity.

The aerobic re-test saw him working longer but his VO2 max did not improve. Therefore his aerobic capacity had not improved.

This was backed up when the scientists produced the results of the gene test; it showed he was a non-responder. So no matter what he did, he was not going to see massive results. The scientists can now tell these non-responders by blood test.

In conclusion, the interviewer decided to continue this high-intensity exercise, as his blood glucose had shown such an improvement, and he did not want to get Type 2 diabetes as his father had. Also, he was going to improve his NEAT, and this is a lesson we can all learn.

To view the programme click on the link: www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cywtq/Horizon_20112012_The_Truth_About_Exercise/.

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