How much do you know about HIIT exercise? Exercise is physical stress applied to the body.
Different types of exercise can stimulate specific responses in our bodies:
- Aerobic exercise improves insulin sensitivity.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves repeating short bouts of activity at near-maximal intensity, rapidly increases aerobic capacity, mitochondrial respiration, and insulin sensitivity.
- Resistance training (RT) reverses age-related declines in synthesis rates of muscle proteins
- Combined training (CT) offers many benefits of both aerobic and resistance training, although the intensity of aerobic and resistance components are lower than either HIIT or standard RT programs.
But are all types of exercise born equal, when it comes to longevity and rejuvenation? As it turns out, the answer is NO.
To engage your genes fully, the intensity of the exercise does matter, suggest Dr David Sinclair, a prominent longevity researcher. It’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—the one that significantly raises your heart and respiration rates—that engages the greatest number of health-promoting genes, and more of them in older adults who exercise. A reputable study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic shows that these changes are more dramatic in the over-65 exercisers compared with a group of people under age 30 who did the same workouts.
Even through runners have used HIIT for well over a century to improve their endurance, HIIT didn't go mainstream until about a decade ago. Following multiple studies that repeatedly showed the benefits of HIIT, the routine was popularised with the seven-minute workout and even a one-minute workout!
Why is HIIT exercise so beneficial?
Reason #1 - HIIT is anti-ageing
Scientists know that many of the longevity genes that are turned on by exercise are responsible for the health benefits of exercise. These benefits include extending the length of telomeres (these proteins are good indicators of our biological clock) which protect us from genome degradation. In addition, exercise helps to grow micro-vessels that deliver oxygen to cells and boosts the activity of mitochondria, which burn oxygen to make chemical energy. Mitochondria contain genes coding for proteins important in energy production. They are the powerhouses of the cell.
Unfortunately, these bodily activities fall as we age. But the good news is that the genes most impacted by exercise-induced stress can bring them back to the levels associated with youth. HIIT provides the stress necessary to stimulate production of the naturally occurring hormones (testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1). These steroids promote muscle protein synthesis and increase lean muscle mass and so help to mitigate the effects of the aging process.
But the news gets even better!
Reason #2 - HIIT improves memory
HIIT also helps to improve memory. Older adults who exercise using HIIT show up to 30% memory improvement, while older adults working out moderately see no improvement. In one particular study, older adults (between ages 60 and 88) were monitored over a 12-week period and participated in three sessions per week. Some performed high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), while a separate control group engaged in stretching only.
Those who participated in HIIT did 4 sets of exercise on a treadmill for 4 minutes. The MICT protocol was a lot longer - one set of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for nearly 50 minutes. A special test (which taps into the function of the newborn neurons generated by exercise) was used to measure memory improvements.
The conclusion? It's never too late to start to exercise... but if you do start late, make sure your you do HIIT.
Reason #3 - HIIT helps you to shed weight
Do you have a few pounds that you would rather not have, but don't want to spend hours in the gym? I certainly don't.
You can burn more calories with HIIT (25-30% more) than with a regular cardio exercise within the same amount of time. This is a perfect solution for those of us who want to gain the benefits of both resistance and cardio training, but have limited time to exercise. A regular HIIT session can take only 10-30 min.
And the best part of HIIT exercise?
This rejuvenation pill costs you nothing and is equipment-free.
How to measure "intensity"
"High intensity" is rather subjective, but you can can still measure it. It feels challenging:
- Your breathing is deep and rapid.
- You develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity.
- You can't say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Trainers will often talk about heart rate zones, which are a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Here's how to determine yours:
Substract your age from 220.
For example, at age 55 you should aim to get your heart rate to around 132 beats a minute (80% of your 165 max heart rate) during each interval, which can last from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Bear in mind that maximums differ significantly from individual to individual regardless of fitness, and a higher max heart rate doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more fit.
FitBit or heart rate monitor can also help.
Get results today!
To get full benefits of HIIT, you only need to exercise 2-3 times a week. A big component of this type of exercise is getting enough recovery time. Consistency and variety (combination with other activities) is what will keep you motivated.
A word of caution - like with any exercise, a prior clearance with a medical practitioner is highly recommended. Counterindications include excessive weigh, heart disease and hypertension.
Here are links to workouts to get you going:
- 4 x 4 routine (clinically tested), where a researcher explains how and why you should do this exercise.
- 12 station program, includes 30 sec of exercise followed by 10 sec rest, 7 minutes in total for a circuit. All exercises can be done with body weight and in almost any setting (home, office, hotel room, etc.).
- a series of 10-15 min. workouts
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