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Fitness Master: 8 minutes of exercise a day and the guy still in the gym at 100

On the day before Christmas, you’re probably filled with good spirit. I hope to keep that positive vibe going by introducing you to my new but never-met idol, a guy I only read about two weeks ago in a Today.com article by A. Pawlowski.

Les Savino.

What makes Savino worthy of my idolatry is not that he surpasses my typical weekday exercise time by working out for three hours a day Monday through Friday. It’s that he surpasses me despite the fact that virtually every one of his contemporaries has - in an oddly euphemistic manner of speaking - already surpassed him.

Everlastingly. Eternally. They do their cardio and drink their protein shakes at a health club in the Great Beyond.

Les Savino is 100 and still going strong.

And if hearing this centenarian’s thoughts on exercise and life doesn’t push your next workout well past the 8-minute mark (more on a misleading study about sufficient exercise time later), well . . . I guess that means we’re hardwired as differently as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Savino’s motivation for exercise is a good place to start. He seems to have no more of it than a 300-pound, 30-year-old who considers working the lever on the armchair to recline it and pop out the footrest a few times a good-enough arm workout.

In fact, Savino tells Pawlowski that he never feels like going to the gym but knows “it’s necessary if I want to enjoy life.”

It makes him feel good once he gets going, though, so much so that afterwards he “just feel[s] more motivated with life.”

He has good reason to.

“Most people at 100 no longer enjoy life,” Savino says. “My days are as normal as when I was 30.”

He believes exercise is “much better than medicine,” and the only type he takes is a single daily pill to keep his blood pressure in check. He’s never had any sort of heart disease or any type of cancer, though he has been battling with Ménière’s disease.

It affects his balance enough so at times he uses a walker, but not enough to keep him from driving to the YMCA to lift weights on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and ride a stationary bike and walk on a treadmill on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

These workouts begin at 7:30 a.m. and end three hours later, far longer than the amount of time suggested in the title of a November 22 WebMD.com article by Danny Watkins: “Just 8 Minutes of Exercise a Day Is All You Need.” It’s a title that’s truly misleading, yet not really wrong, either.

Matthew Ahmadi, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney and colleagues reviewed data on more than 71,000 adults in the United Kingdom who agreed to wear fitness trackers and then provide follow-up information for several years, information that’s available through the UK Biobank, a biomedical database. Ahmadi’s paper about their analysis found risk of early death was reduced by 36 percent and chance of heart disease was reduced by 35 percent by just 50 to 57 minutes of intense exercise per week.

So Watkins’ editor, I assume, did some simple math and created a clever, albeit misleading title. Misleading not only because Watkins does state that the participants who spent more total time exercising “unsurprisingly” had better overall health, but also because the 8 minutes of exercise a day has to be what Ahmadi calls “vigorous.”

Exercise performed at 77 percent or more of your maximum heart rate.

In the past, I’ve written at length that in your pursuit of optimal health any exercise is good, moderate exercise is better, and vigorous exercise is better still. Along with the proviso that vigorous exercise is intense, not always for everyone - and should certainly only be done after a sufficient warm up.

Therein lies the rub.

A sufficient warm up for exercise performed at more than 76 percent of your maximum heart rate, particularly if you’re middle aged or older, should be longer than the 8 minutes of exercise the title of the WebMD article claims is all you need.

Much longer, probably.

While my maximum heart rate has decreased throughout the years, as it naturally does, it’s still about 15 beats per minute above what’s considered normal for my age. So “vigorous” bicycling riding occurs for me once the heart rate monitor shows 135 beats per minute.

Three Saturdays ago when a cold rain kept my ride inside, I kept my heart rate over that rate for 90 minutes.

But this occurred only after a 58-minute warmup.

Now there’s nothing inherently beneficial to warming up for that long a time. That’s how long it took (and sometimes takes) for me at the age of 61 to gradually increase my heart rate to 77 percent of its max.

Regardless of your age, however, taking the time and making your warmup progressive makes the vigorous exercise that follows far more tolerable and allows you to exercise vigorously longer.