High-intensity interval training can improve heart health, but it’s not for everyone

Experts say that while high intensity interval training workouts — HIIT workouts, for short — are a good way to push a person’s cardiovascular health endurance, they’re not for everyone.

“I would say HIIT is not the exercise of choice for a lot of people,” said Vic White, an exercise physiologist at LMH Health. “It’s probably more applied to a younger population.”

HIIT workouts typically involve five seconds to eight minutes of high-intensity activity followed by recovery periods of equal or shorter lengths. The high-intensity portions are meant to be performed at 85% to 95% of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate, and the recovery periods performed at 40% to 50%, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Due to the high heart rates reached during HIIT training, White said it can be dangerous for certain populations.

If a person is unfit, has an abnormal cardio-respiratory condition or is on medication that alters their heart rate, HIIT workouts are likely not for them, White said. And no matter who is considering trying the workout, it’s always a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider first.

But for those who can handle the intensity, HIIT workouts are a good way to push a person’s cardio-respiratory function. They also can be accomplished in a short period of time, and burn a similar — if not higher — amount of calories than a longer, sustained workout.

“A lot of people don’t have a full hour or 45 minutes sometimes to squeeze in a workout,” said Chris Rhoad, personal trainer and owner of Morph Training in Lawrence.

“You’re able to do a high intensity workout in a shorter amount of time,” he said, and “you can burn a lot of calories.”

HIIT workouts can be accomplished on all exercise modes, including cycling, walking, swimming, elliptical cross-training and more. Mike Walters, who also works as an exercise physiologist at LMH Health, said that’s one of its benefits.

One common example of HIIT training is to sprint on the straight portions of a track and jog lightly on the curves. Walters said track athletics have been incorporating HIIT into their training for a long time.

HIIT workouts also typically burn more calories than traditional workouts because the body expends more energy in the post-exercise period to restore itself to pre-exercise levels, according to the ACSM.

Rhoad, the trainer, said it’s typically his younger clients who express interest in the training method, and that he usually only implements HIIT with people 50 or below, noting that the workouts have a higher risk for injury.

But Christie Ogunnowo, a HIIT class instructor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, said she has one class participant who is 76.

That’s not typical, she said. Most of her classes fill up with people between the ages of 24 and 60. But because this 76-year-old has been weight training for years, she said he’s able to succeed.

HIIT workouts have been shown to improve blood pressure, cholesterol profiles and cardiovascular health, according to the ACSM. It also is a good way to lose weight while maintaining muscle mass.

Ogunnowo said that while many of her class participants want to lose weight, that should be a secondary priority to simply working out.

White, the LMH Health physiologist, said at this time of year, people with New Year’s resolutions, or those preparing for spring break trips, might want to get fit fast.

But consistency is key, he said. People are more sedentary in the winter; make sure to have a foundation of exercise before jumping into a HIIT workout.

“And don’t expect more of yourself than you can deliver,” he said.

Rhoad, the trainer, only recommends doing HIIT workouts two or three times a week. And he said the best workout method truly depends on the person.

“The bottom line is it’s all beneficial,” he said. “As long as you’re moving your body, exerting energy.”


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