For seniors recovering from a heart attack, a surprising new finding: Quick bursts of activity actually may be better than slow and steady exercise.

Normally, doctors frown on cardiac patients doing any sort of activity that spikes their heart rates. But researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute found that interval training, which elite athletes use to increase their aerobic capacity, actually was more effective for cardiac patients than the endurance exercises that their doctors typically prescribe.

The researchers put patients with coronary heart disease on stationary bikes and showed them how to do high-intensity interval training. Then they had them try a traditional moderate-intensity continuous-exercise regimen. Both exercise plans required similar amounts of energy expenditure and neither routine resulted in exercise-induced heart damage.

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The survey results echo a similar study done in Norway reported in Harvard Health Publications that showed that high-intensity interval training enhanced heart and muscle functioning more than moderate aerobic exercise in people with cardiac disease.

Of course, cardiac patients should not begin exercise programs without first talking to their doctors.