Weight loss study

MARQUETTE – A Northern Michigan University graduate student has designed an experiment that will test whether high-intensity workouts in a chamber that simulates high altitudes will yield better weight loss results.

Max Adolphs, who is pursuing his master’s degree in exercise physiology, will conduct a study for his thesis in May, in which he hopes to measure the efficacy that high-intensity workouts – short 30-second bursts of very intense exercise, followed by four and a half minutes of rest, for a total workout time of only 20 minutes – have on weight loss in NMU’s new hypoxic chamber at the Physical Education Instruction Facility.

Adolphs said hypoxia – lower than normal levels of oxygen – has been shown to cause weight loss, which can be seen in people who live in areas of high elevation, who tend to have lower percentages of body fat than those closer to sea level.

“Basically what hypoxia does is it creates an environment that’s similar to somebody already exercising, because you’re hyperventilating, and then your body is simultaneously kicking off things like epinephrine, norepinephrine,” he said. “It’s almost like you’re not doing anything but you’re exercising.”

Hypoxic chambers are often used for athletic conditioning, Adolphs said, mentioning that U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps used to sleep in a similar chamber, and that in Scandinavian countries they even have hypoxic houses for athletes in training.

And though the reasons for hypoxia having such weight loss effects aren’t fully known, Adolphs said that part of it has to do with the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.

“A lot of things like your blood pressure will go up, things like epinephrine, norephinephrine will be increased, because your oxygen saturation is going down and it’s trying to compensate,” he said. “And the way that it does is it makes you hyperventilate, and you have to, at the same time, pump more blood through the body so that your muscles and brain and whatnot can be more saturated with oxygen. But simultaneously while that’s happening, it’s increasing things like your energy expenditure.”

Adolphs’ hypothesis, which he’ll test with the study in the chamber, is that if the effects of hypoxia – in this case, the equivalent of being at an elevation of about 10,000 feet – are coupled with high-intensity exercise, it might create more pronounced weight loss – better results, more efficiently.

“What’s been looked at a lot with exercise is, what is the most efficient way to exercise people? Because people just don’t exercise,” Adolphs said. “So we want to get more time-efficient ways for people to exercise and lose weight and improve all these things like diabetes and cholesterol problems, et cetera.”

Adolphs said that high-intensity intermittent exercise has been shown to be much more efficient than sustained, longer workouts in terms of burned calories – one can burn more working out in short, intense bursts of energy followed by periods of rest than they could by, say, jogging at a steady pace for a lot longer.

“The idea is you’re creating a really time-efficient, potentially really effective, non-pharmalogical, non-surgical way to exercise, and potentially lose maybe even more weight than you would normally,” Adolphs said.

For the study, which will begin in early May, Adolphs is looking for 20 sedentary people – people who don’t do any regular exercise – between 25 and 30 on the body-mass index, but who are otherwise healthy.

He said that as part of the program, he’s teamed up with doctors at Marquette General Hospital to give participants free exercise and nutrition counseling, as well as regular measurements of their resting metabolic rate and utilization of lipids and carbohydrates, among others; and participants will be able to see their progress throughout the six-week study.

People interested in participating in the study can contact Max Adolphs at madolphs@nmu.edu.