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HIIT and Heart Health

Doctorpedia Editorial Team Doctorpedia Editorial Team April 7, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

High intensity interval training (or HIIT) is a popular workout method that is composed of intense interval training with short rest periods. A participant completes short bursts of exercise, waiting less than a minute before progressing to the next exercise. An HIIT workout typically lasts half an hour or less, usually concluding only when the participant is physically exhausted.

 

HIIT has a number of health benefits when compared to traditional exercise. HIIT has been proven to enhance cognition, lower insulin resistance, and, of course, help you lose weight and build strong muscles. But one important benefit of HIIT is the way it contributes to your heart health.

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Heart Attack: Exercise Stress Test

Heart Attack: Exercise Stress Test

A review done in May 2019 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined 36 studies which compared HIIT and moderate-intensity exercise. Their conclusion? Participants who performed both types of exercise lost weight, but those who did interval training lost 28.5% more body fat than the group who did only moderate exercise.

 

Another study found similar results. Healthy adults aged 18 to 45 participated in training regimens for two weeks. They were divided into two groups: One did traditional endurance training while the other did HIIT. At the end of the study, participants in both groups showed significant improvements in their cardiovascular health, but those who performed HIIT had a higher VO2 max–maximal oxygen consumption–which reflects cardiovascular fitness and endurance. 

 

The Mayo Clinic also recognizes the aerobic benefits of HIIT. Edward Laskowski, M.D., co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Minnesota, is an advocate. “HIIT has also been shown to be very safe and effective in patients with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.” Dr. Laskowski said. “In all of these populations, HIIT programs can produce significant benefit for the cardiovascular system and improved metabolic parameters. And people seem to like it better than traditional endurance exercise.”

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Heart Attack Prevention

Heart Attack Prevention

It’s easy to get started with HIIT. The goal is essentially to get your heart rate up without sacrificing performance or form. One example of a good HIIT workout is a session on a treadmill:

 

  • Start with 5 minutes of brisk walking. 
  • Move on to a 1-minute run at 7mph, followed by a 2-minute run at 5.5mph. Repeat both runs 5 times for a total of 15 minutes. 
  • Walk 1 minute at a slow pace to recover.
  • Run for 30 seconds at 10-12mph, followed by a 1-minute run at 4mph. Repeat both runs 5 times for a total of 7.5 minutes.
  • Walk for 4 minutes as a cooldown.

 

If you’d prefer something else, there are hundreds of HIIT workouts you can find online. Making the switch to HIIT can get you in shape in much less time than a traditional workout, and your heart will thank you for it.

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