Exercise is essential for a healthy heart, but the older we get the more difficult it can be to fit in a workout. As a result, many elderly people will find themselves living mostly inactive lifestyles. Thankfully, a recent study from Scotland may solve this problem with its suggestion that even as little as six-second bursts of vigorous exercise are enough to transform the health of the elderly.

In a small study from the Scottish Abertay University, researchers found a way to avoid the “astronomical” costs of poor health in the elderly, the BBC reported. Going all out during exercise, even if only for a few short seconds, was found to reduce blood pressure. When done over a period of time, general fitness improved as well.

For the study, a group of 12 elderly individuals were asked to come into the lab twice a week for six weeks and go all out on an exercise bike for six seconds. Once the individuals' hearts were conditioned to the intense exercise, the time period was increased to one minute. Researcher Dr. John Babraj commented that the elderly “were not exceptionally fast, but for someone of that age they were.”

By the end of the six weeks, the blood pressure of the participants was found to have reduced by nine percent. Along with a reduced blood pressure, the participants found that everyday activities such as walking around or even simply getting out a chair were made easier. According to Babraj, these findings may suggest an alternative for older people who struggle to exercise, since it can be done in such a short amount of time.

The study’s findings may be beneficial to not only the elderly population, but to entire countries. “We've got an ageing population and if we don't encourage them to be active, the economic burden of that is going to be astronomical,” Babraj explained. Offering an alternative to traditional workout routines may present exercise to individuals who otherwise would have brushed aside the idea. Barbraj suggested that “the easiest way to do it yourself is to run up a hill, the steeper the hill, the harder it's going to be, give it everything you've got for six seconds,"

High Intensity Training (HIT) is not just beneficial to the elderly. The Herald Sun reported that these short intervals can result in excellent fitness and health results in as little as seven minutes when done a few times a week. “This program suits everyone – mums at home with small children, parents working long hours in offices, even older people,” explained exercise scientist Chris Jordan to the Herald Sun.

Researchers involved in the study still emphasize that a physician should be consulted first to ensure that there are no underlying health conditions. That is because there is still a fair amount of debate in the scientific community with regard to the health risks involved with short and strenuous workouts. Pushing oneself to the limit physically, even if only for a short amount of time, has been associated with severe health complications such as heart attacks and stroke. Babraj believes that this risk of heart complications due to exercise is not any greater with HIT than it is with running sessions, which he says, “puts a greater strain on the heart overall.”

Source: Adamson SB, Lorimer R, Cobley JN, Babraj JA. Extremely Short–Duration High-Intensity Training Substantially Improves the Physical Function and Self-Reported Health Status of Elderly Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2014.