Why High Intensity Exercise Is Best


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Article by Dr. Beth Templin, PT, DPT, GCS

Photography by Dr. Beth Templin, PT, DPT, GCS

Some exciting research has come out on the effectiveness of intense exercise for aging adults. Even though it may seem like a dangerous idea to work out at a high level of effort when you're "old", the truth is that it can be one of the most beneficial types of activity you can participate in. 

What is High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT? The basis of HIIT workouts are that you perform high intensity workouts which are very short in duration. This means that you work at an 8/10 effort level, where 10 is your all out maximum effort.  

Bouts of activity typically only last for 20 to 90 seconds because the goal is working as hard as you can for that time period. This is the complete opposite of going out for a leisurely 2-3 mile walk where you are working at a constant easy pace. The goal of HIIT is to work very hard for a short time and then recover. Why would you choose to exercise this way? There are many benefits.

1. Boosting your endurance. With age, your cells lose the ability to generate energy, which is why you may not have as much stamina as you used to. HIIT has been shown to help your cells generate more energy, which allows you to feel more invigorated throughout the day.

2. Boosts growth of new muscle. We all begin to lose muscle with age. HIIT helps to boost the growth of new muscle fibers which can counteract the natural muscle loss with age. 

3. Improving your metabolism. An advantage to increasing your muscle mass is that it also increases your metabolism. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

4. Losing body fat. All exercise helps your body to burn fat, but HIIT burns more fat compared to easier kinds of exercise. As you age, you tend to have a higher percentage of body fat. This predisposes you to multiple health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. By decreasing your body fat, you will be healthier.

5. Better insulin regulation. The better your body is able to regulate your insulin levels, the less likely you will be to develop diabetes. If you are already trying to manage diabetes, this style of exercise will help you manage it better. 

A study at the Mayo Clinic showed that all of these 5 benefits were more noticeable in people over the age of 65, compared to people in their 30's, meaning this style of exercise is more effective as you age. 

Are HIIT Workouts Safe For People My Age?

The short answer is yes. If you have not participated in regular exercise recently, you would start at a lower level than someone who has been more active. The intensity level should be based on your rate of perceived exertion, or how hard you feel you're working. 

No matter your current fitness level, you will see faster gains when you participate in higher intensity activities. HIIT style workouts have been show to be more effective than a normal "steady-state" workout where you get your heart rate up just a little and then keep it there the whole time. 

The research shows it's never too late to start.  

​❤ Dr. Beth

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