Why interval training may be the best workout at any age

Curious about high-intensity interval training but not sure it's for you? See how intervals can be a fun and effective addition to any workout routine.

By Daniel V. Gaz

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is not just for the young and healthy. Researchers have found that HIIT can improve health and fitness for just about everyone and has even bigger benefits for older adults.

The concept of "HIIT" is pretty simple. You can do anything for 30 seconds or even a couple of minutes. And then, given a chance to catch your breath, you'll be able to do it again. During a HIIT workout, you alternate between exerting a high and low level effort of exercise.

It may protect cells from aging

Mayo Clinic researchers studied the effects of HIIT on people over age 65. What they discovered may surprise you: Some age-related deterioration of muscle cells had actually been reversed.

HIIT seemed to change a cell's DNA in a way that boosted the muscle's ability to produce energy. It also triggered the growth of new muscle, helping counteract inevitable muscle loss that comes with aging.

These changes were more dramatic in the over-65 exercisers compared with a group of people under age 30 who did the same workouts. One possible takeaway: It's never too late to start and see big gains.

It's simpler than you think

Interval training doesn't require special training or equipment. In one study, walkers who added higher-intensity intervals to their walking program improved their aerobic fitness, leg strength and blood pressure. They did it by simply alternating between three minutes of fast walking and three minutes of slow walking for 30 minutes or more four times a week.

Peers who walked twice as long but at a moderate, consistent pace made minimal gains in fitness or other measures — similar to a comparison group that didn't exercise at all.

Oct. 27, 2017