No Time to Exercise? Try HIIT

TryHIITJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

Many will agree that good nutrition and regular exercise are essential lifestyle strategies for reaching and maintaining good health and vitality. One of the greatest barriers to daily exercise is a perceived lack of time. For those who wish to participate in some kind of physical activity, but find themselves time-challenged, high intensity interval training, or HIIT, may be the perfect time-efficient solution. HIIT is a combination of very brief, very high-intensity activity followed by equal or longer recovery periods. Although HIIT can be challenging, it’s a very effective way to get the maximum health benefits of exercise in a short period of time.

There are various ways to incorporate HIIT into an exercise routine. For example, after a warmup, one round of a HIIT workout might entail sprinting up the stairs and then walking down; pedaling on a stationary bike as fast as possible against high resistance for 30 seconds, followed by pedaling for two to three minutes at an easy pace with low resistance; or sprinting for 10 – 20 seconds, followed by one or two minutes of walking or jogging. Do this for a minimum of five and a maximum of thirty minutes two to three times a week and you’re done. Whether you choose sprinting, cycling, jump rope, or body weight exercise, the method is the same—short periods of vigorous exercise that elevate the heart rate followed by recovery time.

Why HIIT? In addition to the timesaving benefits, HIIT is extremely efficient. It helps to burn body fat while retaining or increasing lean muscle mass, strengthens the cardiovascular system, results in an increased metabolic rate for hours after exercise, and helps develop sport-specific energy systems, such as improved fat and carbohydrate oxidation in skeletal muscle. Additionally, a significant amount of research has shown that HIIT can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese individuals, perhaps even more so than the frequently recommended moderate-intensity exercise. For those who have or are at risk of type II diabetes, HIIT may be especially beneficial for improving blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.

When performed correctly, a HIIT workout is hardcore and difficult. Some might say insufferable, as one should exhaust all energy reserves by the end of the workout. However, while HIIT may not be as pleasant as a dance class or a stroll around the park, the increased cardiovascular fitness and improved glucose levels may be most beneficial for sedentary folks or those who haven’t made exercise a daily priority. For young to middle-aged healthy adults, HIIT has been shown to improve endurance and maximal oxygen intake or VO2 peak, a commonly used measure of cardiovascular health.

One review study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that among people with heart disease, HIIT improves cardiorespiratory fitness nearly twice as much as longer periods of moderate-intensity running, cycling or other aerobic exercises. Ulrik Wisloff, a HIIT researcher and head of the cardiac exercise research group at the Norwegian School of Science and Technology, states that during very intense exercise, “the heart cannot pump enough blood to satisfy all the muscles.” This deficit of oxygen to the muscles creates a “cascade of molecular responses in most bodily organs,” that produces a greater training response as opposed to less intense bouts of exercise.

Physical activity of any intensity results in increased growth of mitochondria, the energy generators of cells. The mitochondria, important for maintaining healthy cell function, tend to deteriorate with age. However, it takes a fairly long exercise session to activate these genes with traditional cardio workouts. With HIIT, it appears that short training sessions can switch on the genes. In addition to improved cardiovascular and respiratory heath, reduced body fat, and better controlled blood sugar and blood pressure, a study published in Cell Metabolism found interval training has further benefits for older adults. Mitochondrial growth increases the cell’s ability to take in oxygen and produce energy, resulting in reversal of cellular aging, as well as other beneficial age-related changes.

That’s good news for all, especially the over 65 set, as the study found that a HIIT routine resulted in a dramatic increase in healthy cellular function in senior adults. Although an analysis of 50,000 hours of HIIT data collected from cardiovascular disease patients in Norway concluded that HIIT is both safe and effective, those with angina or serious heart problems should check with their healthcare provider before embarking on any exercise program. According to Wisloff and his colleagues, it may be much more dangerous to health not to perform HIIT than to perform it. Those who give up on exercise or never start because of perceived or actual time restraints will find that with HIIT, good health may be only 10 minutes away.

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Short bursts of intense exercise are a HIIT, even with less active people.
7 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
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Ultimate Anti-aging Workout.
Scared of High-Intensity Interval Training? A Heart Monitor Can Make It Fun and Easy.