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New Study Suggests High-Intensity Interval Training Pays Excellent Health Dividends

High intensity interval training has become increasingly popular as it’s a quick and effective way to improve health. This is all the more important as countries around the world emerge from lockdowns due to coronavirus and are looking for quick and easy way to exercise again.

A new study has added to this understanding of how high-intensity interval training can improve and help maintain good health, even in sessions lasting only 20 minutes.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves short, vigorous bursts of exercise are interspersed with recovery periods has gained popularity based on its ability to burn fat. But, new research suggests how it can offer much more including studies that demonstrate how it can improve brain plasticity and its positive effects on metabolic health, particularly how HIIT can help boost fat metabolism in the cold. 

This new study focuses specifically on low-volume (HIIT), where the total time of the sessions including warm up and cool down last no longer than around 20 minutes, with less than 15 minutes of actual high-intensity exercise. The collaborating authors in Canada and Australia reviewed a decade’s worth of existing literature on the subject, which yielded some interesting findings.

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults perform between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 to 100 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. The authors found that low-volume HIIT exercise confers comparable, or even at times superior, improvements in metabolic health, heart function and arterial health, despite taking far less time and energy.

This hypothesis is supported by the increasing rates of physical inactivity amongst adults in high income countries.

The findings of this study show that low-volume HIIT (typically involving less than ~20 minutes total exercise time—inclusive of warm up and cool down) yields comparable improvements to interventions meeting the current guidelines despite requiring significantly less time.

So, what is low-volume HIIT? As HIIT involves active periods of work interspersed with recovery periods, the researchers defined low-volume HIIT as interventions which included less than 15 minutes of high-intensity exercise per session (not including recovery periods).

This review builds on the authors’ recent study published in Diabetes Care which showed that as little as four minutes of HIIT 3 times per week for 12 weeks significantly improved blood sugar levels, fat in the liver, and cardiorespiratory fitness in adults with type 2 diabetes. They also showed that these improvements were comparable to an intervention involving 45 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Beyond its effect on metabolic health, the new review reported that low-volume HIIT can also improve heart function and arterial health.

While the overwhelming majority of available evidence shows that low-volume HIIT is a safe way to exercise, including in populations with metabolic and heart problems, individuals should always determine their individual suitability for such programs with their health care professional.

This research was performed by collating and critically appraising over a decade’s worth of research on the topic.

Further research should explore whether low- volume HIIT is sustainable in the longer-term and whether combining low-volume HIIT with other training interventions, such as resistance training, can maximize health outcomes.

Many of the participants in the study published in Diabetes Care reported being in disbelief over how short the training was yet how great they felt after training.

Dr. Angelo Sabag, corresponding author of the study said, “while the WHO guidelines may serve their purpose at a populational 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.

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.”

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