Health / Mental Health

How HIIT Can Boost Your Mental Health

Try high-intensity interval training to feel good both inside and out.

Whether at the gym, attending a studio class, or utilizing the Aaptiv app, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective workout—and a popular one. A recent survey from the American College of Sports Medicine found that HIIT is the third biggest fitness trend of 2019, and it has ranked in the top-five every year in the survey since 2014.

It’s easy to see why countless people are turning to HIIT. This fun, high-energy workout combines intense periods of exercise with short recovery windows to maximize results. This allows you to build strength and endurance, as well as torch calories while minimizing your time expenditure. And, because of its choose-your-own-adventure format, you’re able to customize workouts to meet your preferences and goals.

Beyond just being great for your physical health, HIIT has also shown promise for boosting mental health. So, if you’re looking for a workout that will make you feel good inside and out, HIIT may be the answer.

How HIIT Affects Mental Health

It’s long been understood that exercise can improve your mood by increasing your body’s endorphins. These are the feel-good neurotransmitters responsible for boosting pleasure and dampening pain. But, exercise goes further than just improving mood.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is vital to combating stress and maintaining mental fitness. It notes that even just five minutes of exercise can produce anti-anxiety effects. And, per research from UC Davis Health System, bouts of intense exercise may be able to prevent and treat depression. Scientists found that vigorous exercise increases the levels of two common neurotransmitters, called glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (commonly referred to as GABA), that are responsible for chemical messaging within the brain. This is notable because major depressive disorders are often associated with depleted levels of glutamate and GABA.

Similarly, a University of Texas study found that HIIT can change your brain by boosting a protein called BDNF that’s involved with cell repair, cognitive function, and mood regulation. Low levels of this protein are associated with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. This suggests that exercise might play a role in addressing these issues. Another study published in the Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment journal also found that HIIT can improve the physical and mental health of patients with chronic schizophrenia and reduce the level of care that they require.

Aaptiv has HIIT workouts for every fitness level. Listen to our audio-based fitness classes in the app today.

How HIIT Benefits Adolescents

While the above studies address the mental health of adults, joint research by the University of Illinois and University of Newcastle looked at HIIT’s benefit to adolescents. It found that high-intensity intervals could be used to improve cognitive and mental health in students. Participants showed increases in executive function and psychological well-being.

It’s worth noting that HIIT shows potential for boosting multiple aspects of mental health. Its application may be able to address everyday cognitive function, including learning and memory, as well as specific disorders like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. So, if you’re already performing high-intensity intervals as part of your workout regimen, you’re off to a great start. If not, there’s no time like the present to try it for yourself.

How to Start With HIIT

One of the best reasons to try HIIT is because, by definition, anything goes as long as you’re completing high-intensity intervals. Cardio, calisthenics, weights—they’re all great, and they all have a place in this type of training. To build endurance, try starting with ten minutes of HIIT, alternating between periods of work and periods of rest. One good format is called Tabata, in which you perform 20 seconds of vigorous exercise followed by ten seconds of rest. Once your endurance builds, you’ll be able to increase the total time of your exercise. Plus, you can also experiment with intervals. For example, attempt 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest.

Hopefully, such workouts will boost your mental health, but you should also notice improvements in your physical health. High-intensity interval training aims to keep your maximum heart rate in the 70 to 90 percent range. So, HIIT burns more calories and fat per minute than steady-state cardio like jogging.

Should you abandon low-intensity exercise?

The short answer is no. Any exercise is better than no exercise, and it’s important to choose something you’ll stick to. If you like walking in the park, great, keep on walking. Research shows that people suffering from depression and other mental health disorders are less likely to workout in general. So, asking them to dive headfirst into a HIIT program may be unrealistic. In such cases, exercise that’s tailored to someone’s preferred intensity rate is more likely to improve mental health and result in sustained exercise.

For more inspiration, search “HIIT” in the Aaptiv app. You’ll find dozens of fun workouts that accommodate all fitness levels. There’s something for everyone, whether you want to squeeze in a quick beginner’s program or challenge yourself with a 45-minute advanced class.

Fitness HIIT Mental Health


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