I’m a bit of an exercise junkie…I work out almost every day because it makes me feel good. But I get that it’s not everyone’s cup of chamomile tea – sometimes I too hear the siren calls of the the couch and Netflix and the word “burpee” alone can cause me to come up with a list of excuses not to work out. Working out takes a lot of effort, it can be time consuming, and you have to buy special clothes to do it, gosh darn it! What if I told you that there’s a workout that takes less time while being just as effective (if not more so) than the standard workout?
What is High-Intensity Interval Training?
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is a workout I have been implementing because of its health benefits and the fact that it does not require as much time to do. HIIT is characterized by alternating brief bursts of intense exercises followed by periods of rest and recovery. But don’t worry – it’s not as scary as it sounds. The bursts can be as short as 20 seconds, which allows this type of exercise to be more doable energy-wise (20 seconds of burpees is not so bad!). HIIT has been shown to improve cardiac function, endothelial function, metabolic risk factors, insulin sensitivity, and aerobic fitness. And even low-volume HIIT (less time and less intense bursts) can provide significant benefits.
In fact, for those who don’t like the word “intense” in their workout, there are gentle forms of interval training which are also effective, such as interval walking. Interval walking has been shown to improve symptoms of those with type II diabetes.
I am not a fan of the “intense” workouts that require you to overturn a monster tire or run for your life in a zombie obstacle course (although I am a fan of zombies). These types of workouts can skyrocket cortisol, which triggers the body’s stress response. If you’re like me (and perhaps 90% of Americans), you experience enough stress as it is from life’s demands. With HIIT, the brief bursts combined with recovery periods actually mitigates the body’s stress response, making it a great workout for keeping those hormones happy.
HIIT for Insulin Sensitivity
If you’ve read some of my other blogs, I am all about keeping blood sugar levels stable. In order to have balanced blood sugar levels, our cells need to be sensitive to insulin (I explain this in depth here). HIIT has actually been shown to improve insulin sensitivity because it frequently causes muscle contractions, allowing for glucose in the blood to be utilized for the muscle during exercise.
In a study on the benefits of HIIT for those with type II diabetes, HIIT was performed for a period of 8 weeks at a total of 90 minutes per week at lower levels of intensity. When compared with baseline, blood sugar concentrations were significantly reduced. Insulin sensitivity was increased and significant abdominal fat loss was recorded. HIIT was also shown to ameliorate pancreatic beta cell function, which tends to be impaired in those with type II diabetes (1,2).
HIIT for PCOS
Because I love talking about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the effects of HIIT on symptoms of PCOS (read more about PCOS here). Research demonstrates that in addition to improving insulin sensitivity, HIIT was correlated with improvements in body composition and lipid levels, a decrease in fat percentage, and an improved cardiometabolic profile in women diagnosed with PCOS. However, HIIT can be beneficial for these markers even if you do not have PCOS (3).
The Practicality of HIIT
The recommendation for physical activity for adults is 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise. HIIT is a more efficient way to improve physical fitness markers because it does not take 150 minutes to achieve similar (and perhaps even better) results. Research suggests that 90 minutes of HIIT per week is effective for overall fat loss compared to traditional continuous training (4). So essentially, you’re getting more bang for your buck – work out less and reap more benefits! I’m in!
How to Incorporate HIIT
The best thing about HIIT is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. So you no longer have an excuse not to work out because you do not need a gym or any equipment to do HIIT. I love using FitnessBlender’s free online workouts, simply type “HIIT” into the search.
The intensity of the intervals depends on your fitness level – perhaps short bursts of fast-pace walking for 30-60 seconds every few minutes is more your style or perhaps burpees alternated with marching in place gives you the beads of sweat you crave. My best advice is to do what you enjoy and what will be sustainable for you. Take interval dance breaks. Run up the stairs. Do squat jumps every few minutes while watching your favorite show. Find a way to fit it into your lifestyle – it does not have to look like the traditional model of exercise. The bottom line is to increase your heart rate, take frequent breaks, and, above all, move your body. If you need support in finding the right workout for your lifestyle and health goals, feel free to contact me.
Note: It is recommended that you seek permission from your physician before starting any new workout routine, especially if you have a history of heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
What is your favorite type of workout? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!