HIIT for better health— and lower doctors’ bills
A few months ago my husband and I joined a local gym. We wanted to be a little more serious with our exercise routines.
Aging can be expensive. I believe one way to save money on health care as we age is to exercise. Exercise can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and possibly dementia.
I also want to keep my muscles and bones strong, to prevent falls and fractures.
I’m no exercise fanatic (quite the opposite, in fact), but aging healthfully is important enough to me that I worked with a personal trainer to learn how to safely lift weights and use all the exercise machines.
I especially wanted to improve my cardiac endurance, so the trainer taught me how to do a simple high-intensity interval training or HIIT workout.
Basically, HIIT workouts involve plugging along on a treadmill or elliptical or stationary bike for a few minutes and then “sprinting” for a minute to really get your heart rate up. Rinse and repeat for about 30 minutes.
It wasn’t easy to start (and still isn’t, actually), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much my endurance has improved. Yay!
“Sprints” appear to boost our mitochondria
Then recently a group of exercise physiologists from the Mayo Clinic published a study showing how HIIT can effect amazing changes at a cellular level, especially in our tiny energy-generating powerhouses, the mitochondria.
A study published March 7 in Cell Metabolism found that exercise — and in particular high-intensity interval training in aerobic exercises such as biking and walking — caused cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes, effectively stopping aging at the cellular level.
“Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process,” said study senior author Sreekumaran Nair, a medical doctor and diabetes researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”
The study compared HIIT to weight lifting.
They found that while strength training was effective at building muscle mass, high-intensity interval training yielded the biggest benefits at the cellular level.
Even more interesting to me is that the older volunteers in the study appeared to benefit the most.
The study enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups — “young” volunteers who were 18-30 years old and “older” volunteers who were 65-80 years old.
The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, and the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69% increase. Interval training also improved volunteers’ insulin sensitivity, which indicates a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.
I was excited by the results of this study. I’ll happily continue challenging myself with the HIIT workout, knowing I’m keeping my mitochondria healthy and youthful.
As the researchers point out in the study, however, HIIT alone is not enough for a well-balanced exercise program.
Weight training builds muscle and bone strength, yoga improves strength and flexibility, Tai Chi improves balance and is great for stress reduction, and so on.
It’s all good.
But if you are looking for an exercise that apparently packs a lot of punch in reversing the age-related decline of our cells, HIIT might be it.