Passover has lots of questions, but one big gastrointestinal complaint. Dyspepsia, constipation and weight gain are the eleventh plague to an otherwise enjoyable holiday. With the exhilaration of Passover preparations behind us, we now enter the relatively sedentary holiday with lavish meals and lounging. And, of course, Passover adds vast amounts of matza to our diets. The fact is: we know the gastronomic burden we are getting into and we accept it, nassa v’neshma. But, can we help mitigate the associative gastric complaints, malaise and inevitable weight gain of Passover?
Of course eating in moderation and increasing consumption of vegetables and fruit, while reducing poor-quality fats like cottonseed oil is helpful. And limiting refined carbohydrates is important, but the fact is it is difficult: the modern Passover diet is rich in matza and potato flour – and who can truly avoid the diabolically delicious Passover brownies. So, recommending and trying to maintain more dietary restrictions and rules to an already food-obsessed-rigid holiday seems dubiously effective and will likely induce stress and heartburn.
The answer could be a newly popular exercise regimen called high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which possess unique benefits that make it an excellent Passover activity. HIIT is a method of performing exercise in alternating bursts of moderately intense exercise of 30-60 seconds alternated with the same exercise at an easy pace for 30-60 seconds. It is usually performed for a total of 10-20 minutes.
The exact time of alternating intensity doesn’t really matter, but it’s usually a 1:1 ratio or 2:1 ratio. It can be modified to suit any type of exercise from walking, running, dancing, and swimming. An example is to brisk walk for one block, followed by a leisurely walk for a block, in alternation. The idea is simply to perform short bursts of activity with rest in an alternating pattern for 10 to 20 minutes. Research shows this short exercise regimen has the same benefits, if not more than, longer moderate exercising.
How intense should the exercise be? At its peak it should be moderately uncomfortable, but never painful. You should be breathing hard, but not become out of breath. If you are new to exercise, start slow. If you have a chronic medical condition you need to get medical clearance from your doctor prior to initiating an exercise regimen.
HIIT training is concise, fun and effective. It has been shown to improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol profiles, and reduce abdominal fat and body weight. It burns more calories than traditional exercising and continues to burn calories for around 2 hours afterwards as the body returns to normal pre-exercise levels. Performing HIIT prior to a meal will help the body digest food better reducing sugar spikes, and bowel transit time leading to less fatigue, indigestion and constipation.
The alternating rhythm of this exercise helps train the vascular system to expand and contract making them more pliable. It also has positive neurological effects, elevating one’s mood and inducing chemicals in the brain that cause muscle relaxation.
The health promoting benefits of exercise are well known, but many people still don’t do it, or don’t do it for enough time and intensity. People are busy and don’t think they have the time for exercise. Some people cannot tolerate sustained bouts of moderate activity that is needed to induce the benefits of exercise. But they can perform it in short bursts. Luckily HIIT is short, concise and efficient. Ten minutes is all that is needed.
The key to maintaining a HIIT regimen is to find a fun activity and fitting it in to your schedule. Being that 10 minutes is all that is required it is ideal for our hectic lifestyles. It also lends itself well to the holidays. While HIIT is used by athletes to push their physical limits, it can be used by anyone in a more moderate fashion. For example you can leave for shul (or the train) 10 minutes earlier than usual. And instead of walking at a slow pace, alternate your walk with periods of brisk walking with leisurely walking. When you get to shul (or the train) you can use the extra few minutes to cool down but the resultant “exercise high” will be a pleasant welcome.
Performing moderate intensity HIIT exercise before meals and on a daily basis will help prevent many health complaints that are associated with frequent large meals. It’s now a great time to start an exercise regimen: we are coming out of our stagnant, winter hibernation and entering the warm spring weather. After all, we need to get our energy up for the upcoming cheesecakes.
Written by: Jacob Gerlitz