Get fit with HIIT: Just 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise improves heart function

LONDON — Want to stay fit and lose weight but don’t have a lot of time? No problem! It might sound like a television ad, but a new study finds short bursts of intense aerobic exercise actually work. Researchers with The Physiological Society say HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts aren’t just another exercise fad.

Researchers conducted a comprehensive review of decades’ worth of relevant exercises during their study. The results reveal less than 20 minutes of low-volume HIIT per week produces “comparable” fitness improvements as following the World Health Organization’s official exercise guidelines. Those call for between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly. Study authors say the regimen improves heart function, arterial health, and boosts metabolism.

Low-volume HIIT refers to any workout involving as little as four minutes of intense exercise per session. That number doesn’t count warm up or cool down periods. Most people who use HIIT workouts divide their sessions into stretches of high impact exercise followed by a short rest. For instance, 40 seconds of mountain climbers, followed by 15 seconds of rest, and then 40 seconds of jumping jacks. For this study, researchers considered “low-volume HIIT” any workout with less than 15 minutes of high intensity exercise per session.

HIIT can help fight the effects of too much sitting

Ideally, everyone would spend an hour or two exercising each day. Life rarely accommodates that, however, and millions fail to reach WHO’s standards each week. Months of isolation, closed gyms, and worsening mental health during COVID-19 isn’t helping either. With all this in mind, HIIT workouts may be a real answer to the modern problem of sedentary living.

HIIT workouts can also improve cardiovascular and heart health, researchers say. However, study authors suggest that cardiac patients discuss such routines with their doctors before trying one out. There is no evidence to suggest HIIT workouts may be dangerous for those with pre-existing heart issues, but not enough research has been conducted on the topic in general.

Moving forward, study authors would like to investigate if HIIT workouts are effective over the long-term, as well as what effect they may have when combined with longer, more traditional exercise routines.

“While the WHO guidelines may serve their purpose at a population level, individualized and tailored low-volume HIIT interventions delivered by appropriately trained exercise professionals may be more effective at an individual level, especially for time-poor individuals,” says study co-author Dr. Angelo Sabag in a media release. “This research is especially important now as people are looking for new and exciting ways to engage in regular exercise, after a year of lower physical activity due to the pandemic.”

The study appears in The Journal of Physiology.

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