ATHLETES HAVE long known about the benefits of HIIT (high intensity interval training) —alternating periods of short, intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. The idea behind the training methodology is simple: less total time required to make changes to your body including more optimal “workout” to benefit your heart.
What’s different? Beyond athletes and folks just trying to get more fit, faster, it’s often senior exercise programs that do not typically include a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercise regimen as part of fitness plan, maybe in part due to the perception of higher risk. However, a recent study completed by the Mayo Clinic debunks the idea that this type of aerobic exercise (combined with strength training) is bad – but rather has proven optimal for both younger AND older adults. Aka, a HIIT fitness regimen, geared appropriately for skills, is good for all ages.
Beyond the normal “lose weight, build cardio strength and endurance” kinds of benefits associated with HIIT, the Mayo Clinic’s study went further to measure two age groups in a controlled 12 week study of different exercise regimens. In the study, they recruited “young” volunteers (aged 18-30) and “older” volunteers (aged 65-80). Volunteers were randomly assigned to perform one of three different exercise programs for 12 weeks that included the following types of exercise:
- Resistance (strength) training using weights
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) on stationary bicycles
- Combined resistance and HIIT exercise
Post the exercise programs, the researchers biopsied tissue samples from the volunteers’ thigh muscles (ouch), and compared their muscle cells to samples from sedentary volunteers.
What they found?
In addition to the improved muscle and cardio function in all age groups, a pretty amazing finding of the study was the “optimization” of enhanced cell growth, and, cell maintenance and repair function when combining HIIT with regular resistance trainings, measured predominantly in what’s known as mitochondrial function.
Gradual decline in mitochondrial function within human cells (the function within a cell that takes in nutrients and turns it into energy) is a known attribute of aging and previously thought to be irreversible or unpreventable. These new findings from the Mayo Clinic study suggest that certain exercise regimens, for both older and younger participants may delay or even reverse decline in an individual’s “cellular” health. Muscle tissue is unusual type of cell in that its cells rarely divide. As result, brain and heart muscle tissue eventually wears out and can’t easily be replaced.
While the study demonstrates the benefit of HIIT for both younger and older adults (along with resistance training), this method of training, especially for “seniors” has the potential to rebuild cells not thought to be able to be improved (due to aging) and/or slow down that which might naturally occur due to the aging process. In fact the results actually showed GREATER improvement with the older test population than the younger. HIIT training also improved insulin sensitivity, which typically reduces the risk of developing diabetes and other heart related diseases.
The morale of the story – consider HIIT training any age fitness regime (don’t be shy to consider HIIT training in your 60’s or 70’s (or older)). It’s for everyone.
NOTE: Mitochondria are small structures within a cell that are made up of two membranes and a matrix. The main job of mitochondria is to perform cellular respiration, meaning it takes in nutrients from the cell, breaks it down, and turns it into energy. This energy is then in turn used by the cell to carry out various functions.