An M.D. on How & Why to Do Interval Workouts

If exercise could be put in a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster medication of all time. Exercise is the best antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication available. It reduces inflammation (one of the major causes of broken brains), improves mood and balances neurotransmitter function, and increases neuroplasticity and neurogenesis — just to mention a few of the positive effects exercise has on your brain.

Unfortunately, today nearly half of Americans live a sedentary lifestyle and 88 percent don’t get enough exercise. No wonder we have an epidemic of broken brains!

On my six-week Ultramind Solution plan, I ask you to commit to 30 minutes of vigorous walking every day. But more is better ... I strongly encourage following these guidelines:

  1. Do 30 minutes of aerobic conditioning exercise at least five days a week. 
  2. Use a heart rate monitor. It can help you maintain your pace.
  3. Include strength training exercises and flexibility training (such as stretching or yoga) regularly.
  4. Add interval training three days a week. I recommend interval workouts because they are a powerful (and time saving) way to get and stay in shape — mentally and physically.

Interval Training 101

Interval training is short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by longer periods of lighter exercise. We called wind sprints in high school, or what the Swedes call fartlek or “speed play.” While interval training was designed for maximizing performance in professional athletes, the average person can greatly benefit from it as well.

If you're over 30 years old, you should have a complete physical exam before starting an interval training program.

Benefits of Interval Training

  • Improves overall fitness level or the ability to utilize oxygen. The more oxygen we use, the more calories we burn
  • Increases post-exercise fat burning, and calorie expenditure even at rest or sleep
  • Lets you exercise for less time while achieving greater fitness, weight loss, and brain health benefits.
  • Naturally increases levels of brain-function-enhancing chemicals in your body.
  • Improves insulin function, which promotes fat burning, muscle building and optimal brain function.

How to Do Interval Training

Here are two sample interval workout routines — one lower-intensity version, and another for those who are a little more advanced. If you don’t fit either of these categories (i.e., if you can’t walk for 30 minutes at 3.5 mph), you should build up your aerobic exercise program before you start incorporating interval training. Start by walking vigorously for 30 minutes every day.

Aerobic conditioning is anything that gets your heart rate up consistently between 70–85 percent of your maximal heart rate. To calculate your target heart rate subtract your age from 220, and then multiply the resulting amount by .70 to .85. For example, if you are 45 years old, subtract 45 from 220, which is 175, and then multiply by that by .70 and .85. In this case, your target heart rate would range from 122 to 148.

Example of a Beginners Interval Workout Program

(for someone who can walk for 30 minutes at 3.5 mph)

Step 1. Warm up: Five minutes of walking at 3.5 mph.

Step 2. Speed up and walk at 4.0 mph for 60 seconds.

Step 3. Slow down and stroll at 3.0 mph for 90 seconds.

Step 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 five more times.

Step 5. Finish with five minutes of walking at a comfortable pace to cool down.

ExampleAdvanced Interval Workout Program

(for someon who has been working out regularly)

Step 1. Warm up: Five minutes of jogging or cycling at the lowest possible percentage of your all-out effort.

Step 2. Run or cycle for 60 seconds at about 85 to 90 percent of your all-out effort. Your leg muscles should fatigue in about one minute. (Basically, the speed you'd run or cycle at to save your life equals 100 percent of your all-out effort. From there, adjust how fast and hard you work so your output reflects the recommended percentage.)

Step 3. Slow down to 60 percent of your all-out effort for 90 seconds. (Make sure you slow down to this very light pace.)

Step 4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 five more times.

Step 5. Finish with five minutes at 60 percent of your all-out effort to cool down.


Based on the book The UltraMind Solution by Mark Hyman. Learn more and join the UltraMind community at


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