Researchers explore how to prescribe exercise like medicine

A recent study found an effective way to determine the intensity at which a patient should work out to achieve the best results, which could provide more predictable outcomes and allow practitioners to prescribe certain exercises as they would medicine.

The study, published in Journal of Applied Physiology, was led by Jayson Gifford, PhD, exercise science professor at Brigham Young University (BYU). Gifford and his team of researchers sought to discover not just how to personalize exercise, but how to prescribe it and ensure results.

Researchers recruited 22 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 who were healthy but exhibited low fitness levels. Each participants underwent eight weeks of supervised exercise training. They were randomly assigned high intensity bike training or moderate intensity continuous bike training. Exercises were prescribed based on the participant’s fixed percentage of oxygen consumption (VO2 Max) otherwise known as a Max Heart Rate.

In addition, researchers calculated each participant’s critical power, defined by authors as the highest level of one’s comfort zone. To do this, investigators observed as participants completed multiple distances, biking and running as fast as they could. They took the average speed of each participant and inserted the data into a proprietary formula that determines the relationship between exercise distance and exercise time.

Even though the workouts were personalized, the results showed the exercise led to significant improvements for some and very little for others. When investigators compared these results with each individual’s critical power, they found that critical power accounted for 60 percent of the variability within their results. In turn, researchers determined that if they had prescribed exercises based on critical power, their outcomes would have varied less and the training sessions would have been more effective for each participant.

“Exercise is so good for you that you’ll see some sort of benefit no matter what you do,” Gifford said. “This research simply informs people that they can more fully optimize their exercise, so they get more out of it. We are excited for when it becomes more accessible for people to know their personal critical power in the near future.”