Busy, busy, busy. Too busy to make that yoga class. Too busy for a lunchtime run. Too busy for an after work spin class. Fitting exercise into our lives can certainly be a challenge. It’s not that we don’t want to take care of our bodies, we just let our scheduled lives get in the way. How can we make physical fitness a priority? Two words:
I’m specifically talking about high intensity interval training (HIIT). According to Orangegtheory Fitness, a growing body of scientific research over the last decade has introduced the idea that when it comes to improving your physical health through exercise, quality is superior to quantity. HIIT is characterized as short bursts (30 seconds to two minutes) of high-intensity activity (around 90% of your maximum effort) interspersed with brief periods of recovery (30 seconds to one minute) for a total of up to 20 minutes. It’s schedule-friendly, can be done without a gym or equipment, and may provide better benefits than traditional steady-state activities. Here are the six primary ways that HIIT can boost your overall health.
BURN FAT, INCREASE MUSCLE
The conventional wisdom for many years has been that long periods of moderate aerobic exercise were best for burning fat. Science has shown that as exercise intensity increases, the body’s reliance on glycogen stores (sugar) also increases and fat burning decreases. However, recent studies have shown that for burning fat, HIIT is superior to steady-state aerobic activity. Researchers point to HIIT’s ability to increase resting metabolic rate, improve insulin resistance in muscles, and stimulate the body’s production of Human Growth Hormone, in some cases up to 450% in the 24 hours after an HIIT workout.
BURN MORE CALORIES
Additional studies in the field have shown that HIIT causes your body to remain in elevated calorie-burning mode for as long as 24 hours post-workout. That means that while you’re at work, while you’re watching TV, while you’re sleeping, and even while you’re eating, your post-HITT body burns calories at a faster rate than if you had simply jogged for an hour.
BOOST VO2 MAX
VO2 Max is about using oxygen more efficiently, and HIIT is exceptionally good at improving it. VO2 max is a measurement of how well your body uses oxygen during intense physical activity. Usually, it’s something that performance athletes care more about, but efficient use of oxygen can benefit anyone. Your body is delivering that oxygen to your muscles when you climb the stairs, wrestle a squirmy toddler into her car seat, complete a triathlon, or go on a day-long hike. HIIT prepares you for all of life’s adventures.
IMPROVE YOUR ENDURANCE
This one is counterintuitive to a lot of people but HIIT can actually aid in improving endurance activities when incorporated into a fitness and training regimen. In addition to increasing your VO2 max which helps endurance, HIIT also increases the size and number of mitochondria in your cells.(1) Mitochondria are the microscopic powerhouses responsible for converting fat and sugar into fuel. The more highly functional mitochondria you have, the longer you can exercise on your endurance days.
IMPROVE HEART HEALTH
Performing exercises at 90% of your maximum effort can sometimes make your heart feel like it’s going to explode. Because of this, your first thought might be that HIIT could be bad for your heart. Studies have shown, though, that the opposite is true. Cardiovascular fitness is measured according to heart rate (how many times your heart beats per minute), stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat), and heart contractibility (the forcefulness of each actual contraction of your heart muscle) all of which are related to muscle strength and VO2 max which are covered above. In addition, HIIT fights metabolic disease (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unbalanced cholesterol, and body fat around the waist) and rids the heart vessels of plaque which both lead to heart disease.
CAN MAKE YOU HAPPIER
Finally, we know that exercise boosts endorphins and improves our sense of well-being, but according to one study HIIT is actually more enjoyable for people due to the short duration and variety of activity involved. Feeling happy during exercise means you are more likely to find time for it and stick with it and those are long-lasting benefits anyone can get behind.