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“Do you come from Liverpool?”

Paul Alper writes:

Because I used to live in Trondheim, I have a special interest in this NYT article about exercise results in Trondheim, Norway:

Obviously, even without reading the article in any detail, the headline claim that

The Secret to Longevity? 4-Minute Bursts of Intense Exercise May Help

can be misleading and is subject to many caveats.
The essential claims:

Such studies [of exercise and mortality], however, are dauntingly complicated and expensive, one reason they are rarely done. They may also be limited, since over the course of a typical experiment [of short duration], few adults may die. This is providential for those who enroll in the study but problematic for the scientists hoping to study mortality; with scant deaths, they cannot tell if exercise is having a meaningful impact on life spans.

However, exercise scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, almost 10 years ago, began planning the study that would be published in October in The BMJ.

More than 1,500 of the Norwegian men and women accepted. These volunteers were, in general, healthier than most 70-year-olds. Some had heart disease, cancer or other conditions, but most regularly walked or otherwise remained active. Few were obese. All agreed to start and continue to exercise more regularly during the upcoming five years.

Via random assignment, they were put into three groups: the control group which “agreed to follow standard activity guidelines and walk or otherwise remain in motion for half an hour most days,” the moderate group which exercises “moderately for longer sessions of 50 minutes twice a weekend” and the third group “which started a program of twice-weekly high-intensity interval training, or H.I.I.T., during which they cycled or jogged at a strenuous pace for four minutes, followed by four minutes of rest, with that sequence repeated four times.”
Note that those in the control group were allowed to indulge in interval training if they felt like it.

Almost everyone kept up their assigned exercise routines for five years [!!], an eternity in science, returning periodically to the lab for check-ins, tests and supervised group workouts.

The results:

The men and women in the high-intensity-intervals group were about 2 percent less likely to have died than those in the control group, and 3 percent less likely to die than anyone in the longer, moderate-exercise group. People in the moderate group were, in fact, more likely to have passed away than people in the control group [!!].

In essence, says Dorthe Stensvold, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who led the new study, intense training — which was part of the routines of both the interval and control groups — provided slightly better protection against premature death than moderate workouts alone.

Here can be found the BMJ article itself. A closer look at the BMJ article is puzzling because of the term non-significant which appears in the BMJ article itself and not in the NYT.


This study suggests that combined MICT and HIIT has no effect on all cause mortality compared with recommended physical activity levels. However, we observed a lower all cause mortality trend after HIIT compared with controls and MICT.


The Generation 100 study is a long and large randomised controlled trial of exercise in a general population of older adults (70-77 years). This study found no differences in all cause mortality between a combined exercise group (MICT and HIIT) and a group that followed Norwegian guidelines for physical activity (control group). We observed a non-significant 1.7% absolute risk reduction in all cause mortality in the HIIT group compared with control group, and a non-significant 2.9% absolute risk reduction in all cause mortality in the HIIT group compared with MICT group. Furthermore, physical activity levels in the control group were stable throughout the study, with control participants performing more activities as HIIT compared with MICT participants, suggesting a physical activity level in control participants between that of MICT and HIIT.

As it happens, I [Alper] lived in Trondheim back before North Sea oil transformed the country. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway did not exist but was called the NTH, incorrectly translated as the Norwegian Technical High School. Back then and as it is today, exercise was the nation’s religion and the motto of the country was

It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. The important thing is to beat Sweden.

To give you a taste of what the country was like in the 1960s, while I was on a walk, a little kid stopped me and said, “Do you come from Liverpool?”

Dude should have his own blog.

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