HIIT—or high-intensity interval training—is favored for its convenience and ability to torch calories and build muscle in a short amount of time. HIIT workouts are beneficial for all age groups and all levels. But they’re actually especially advantageous for adults aged 50 and older. HIIT, which alternates between short bursts of intense activity and rest periods, has proven to not only be a key player in building strength in seniors but also helping the body on a molecular level. Read on to learn more about the benefits of HIIT for seniors and tips for how to perform it safely. Also, check out our audio app if you’re looking for HIIT style workouts!
Benefits of HIIT for Seniors
Reversed Muscular Decline
We know that exercise is beneficial at all ages. But thanks to a study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, we know more about how high-intensity exercise benefits seniors at a cellular level. The study, which included healthy, but sedentary men and women who were 30 or younger or older than 64, assigned volunteers to exercise regimens. Some did vigorous weight training, some did HIIT-style training, some did a moderately-paced activity, and some did not exercise.
The results showed that the subjects who performed the HIIT-style training experienced increases in the health of their mitochondria. Mitochondria, by the way, are responsible for creating energy within cells. And the impact was especially pronounced among the older participants. Basically, the decline in the health of muscles that comes as a result of aging can actually be “corrected” with intense exercise, according to the study’s senior author Dr. Sreekumaran Nair. It’s never too late to benefit from exercise, he adds.
An unfortunate side effect of aging is some memory loss. Luckily, by adding HIIT into your fitness routine, you stand to gain a memory boost. According to a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, as little as six weeks of high-intensity training (done for 20 minutes at a time) improved the 95 participants’ recall skills. Specifically, they found it improved their high-interference memory—the kind that helps you tell two similar things or memories apart.
This is because of an increase in the protein that aids in brain cell growth. Not only is this vital for memory now, but also for the future, as long-term memory weakens with age. “One hypothesis is that we will see greater benefits for older adults, given that this type of memory declines with age,” said Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., the lead study author. “As we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia,” she stated.
Better Lung Health
Similarly, HIIT can be a workout for your lungs. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that briefly putting your body through intense exercise, then letting it recover, and then doing so again, improved both cardiovascular and respiratory health in older adults. The over-65 group specifically experienced an impressive 69 percent increase in their ability to take in oxygen.
Exercising both your heart and lungs improves your overall aerobic capacity—aka the ability of your heart and lungs to get oxygen to your muscles. This is especially paramount for those who’ve experienced a stroke. (Nearly three-fourths of strokes occur in those over the age of 65.)
Lower Glucose Levels
Managing diabetes in older adults can be a tricky task, but HIIT may help take control of this metabolic disease. A study from Denmark found that participants who did 12 weeks of HIIT training had more controlled glucose (or blood sugar) levels. This proved to be more effective than other methods of moderate exercise, like walking, even though they burned the same amount of calories. Another study from the University of Turku in Finland backs this up. It says that HIIT training increased glucose metabolism in muscles—regulating blood sugar levels—after two weeks of training
Ease Effects of Parkinson’s Disease
HIIT may also ease the effects of Parkinson’s disease—a neurodegenerative disorder that affects your movement and often causes tremors. Research shows that the muscle rigidity in Parkinson’s sufferers was significantly alleviated after interval training for eight weeks.
How to Perform It Safely
The “catch” that comes with high-intensity interval training? It requires a lot of, well, intensity. Luckily, researchers have discovered that slightly decreasing the intensity of your workout won’t take away from its amazing effects. And when it comes to performance, the same basic safety rules apply across the board, regardless of age.
When it comes to older adults, consider potential limitations—think stiffer joints, more fatigue, or slower recovery time. So, take note of your heart rate and how you’re performing moves. Prioritize focusing mostly on breathing and performing moves with correct form. While moving, take note of your speed. Go at a pace that’s challenging, but not too uncomfortable. While doing HIIT, you’ll notice an increased heart rate and elevated breathing. No worries, simply take a one to two-minute break between exercises to allow both of these to return to normal.
As always, if you begin to experience any dizziness, nausea, or great pain, stop your workout immediately. Contact your doctor, if necessary.