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Here’s what you can do if your body doesn’t respond to exercise

There’s no doubt that the new year is notorious for making us make new fitness plans. After all, energy is high and enthusiasm is abundant, so people are motivated to take steps to improve their health.

But what happens when you begin an exercise program and see little — if any — improvement in your health and fitness. Then what?

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Historically, exercise scientists have called these people “nonresponders.” In other words, their bodies don’t respond to the exercise or activity they are doing, and consequently, many of them abandon their goals of getting healthy.

Well, there’s no need to give up on those resolutions quite yet. New research published in December in the journal PLOS One, focused on whether a nonresponder to one form of exercise could benefit by switching to another form of exercise.

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Researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Ottawa gathered 21 healthy men and women for the study and divided the participants up into two groups to measure their VO2 max (the maximum rate of oxygen consumption as measured during incremental exercise, most typically on a motorized treadmill).

The two groups of exercisers then completed two very different training programs. One group was assigned endurance training on a stationary bike four times a week for 30 minutes, and the other group participated in a high-intensity interval training program of eight- to 20-second intervals of very hard pedaling on a bike with 10 seconds of rest after each bout.

After three weeks, researchers checked their VO2 and found that as a group, they all made some gains in fitness, but the individual responses were varied.

About a third of the people failed to show much if any improvement from the endurance training and similarly, about a third had not improved their fitness much with interval training.

These results suggest that the individual response to exercise training is highly variable following different training protocols and that the incidence of nonresponse to exercise training may be reduced by changing the training stimulus for nonresponders.

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Simply put, if your body is not responding to the exercise you are engaging in, try something different. If you’ve been a nonresponder to endurance running, try adding a few workouts a week of high-intensity interval training. If you’ve been strength training with heavy weights, lighten up the load and increase the reps.

The researchers hope the message that nonresponders get from this study is simple: Exercise is beneficial for everyone once you find the program that works best for your body.

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