We’ve all heard at some point how exercise is the best medicine, not to take away from the importance of “an apple a day;” But regular high intensity interval training (HIIT), in particular, is great for preserving our youth-like qualities and actually reversing the declining ability of our cells to produce energy.
HIIT is all-out, 100% effort! This is achieved through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods. Sreekumaran Nair and his colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, assigned groups of people aged between 18 and 35 and between 60 and 80 to three months of interval training, weight training, muay thai or a combination of the three. Muscle biopsies were taken before and afterwards to measure the impact of the training on their cells.
This is where it gets interesting. Interval training boosted the ability of the mitochondria (the powerhouse) within cells to generate energy by 69% in older volunteers, and by 49% in the younger group. This paragraph is worth rereading!
Like a battery that wears down with age, mitochondria produce energy less efficiently as we get older. This may produce fatigue and reduce the size and ability of muscles to burn excess blood sugar – a risk factor for type II diabetes. However, this decline was halted and even reversed in the older interval-training group. “After three months of interval training, everything converged towards what we saw in young people,” says Nair.
Other positive impacts on the subjects were surges in lung, heart and circulation health. The amount of oxygen they could inhale and consume at full out exertion increased by 28% in the younger group and by 17% in the older group. There was no corresponding change among weight trainers, although combination training boosted oxygen consumption by 21% among older exercisers.
How long do HIIT workouts last?
Due to the extremely intense nature of HIIT workouts, they typically never last for more than 20-30 minutes. An effective HIIT workout can actually be done in about 10-12 minutes if you structure it correctly.
Do I need a treadmill to do HIIT?
No. It is possible to do HIIT on any cardio machine such as an elliptical, stair master, bike or rowing machine. However, you can do HIIT without any equipment if you want.
How often can I do HIIT?
Limit your HIIT workouts to no more than 3-4 times per week. Don’t try to do more, especially if you’re doing heavy lifting since this will more than likely lead to overtraining.
Benefits of HIIT
- You no longer have to slave away on the treadmill for 60 minutes at a time.
- Because HIIT is an anaerobic activity, like weight lifting, it will actually help you preserve muscle mass.
- You boost HGH (human growth hormone) levels, which help you burn fat, preserve muscle and all the other benefits mentioned above.
- It mimics real life situations where you actually perform short intense bursts of activity…Because seriously, in what real life situation would you have to run 3 miles?