Not so long ago, many scientists thought that people who reach a certain age should, well, slow down a bit. But a new study that tested the effect that weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have on muscles challenges that notion.
After 12 weeks, researchers found that while weight lifting was most effective at building muscle strength, only high-intensity training (alone or in combination with strength training) changed participants’ muscles at the cellular level. More specifically, HIIT boosted the energy producing capacity in the exercisers’ cells, helping turn them from sluggish to supercharged. In the older participants (age 65 to 80), HIIT even seemed to help halt the natural age-related decline in their muscles’ ability to function at a high level.
“If people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity interval training,” says study author Sreekumaran Nair, M.D., a diabetes researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “But I think it would be more beneficial if they could do three to four days of interval training and then a couple days of strength training.”
The Safest Way to Start HIIT
So how do you go about incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine, especially if you’re not exactly an elite athlete? Follow these four steps.
Establish a fitness base. Before you introduce brief periods of all-out effort into your workout, you need to have a solid base of aerobic fitness. For someone who’s been sedentary until now, that means two to four weeks of general strength and cardiovascular fitness, says Cris Dobrosielski, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and the owner of Monumental Results in San Diego, where he often works with an older clientele. “Start with a 10-minute walk and build to 20 or 30 minutes three days a week,” he says.
Introduce HIIT gradually. “I’m a firm believer in the concept of gradual progression, no matter your age,” says Dobrosielski. Once you’re comfortable with walking 20 to 30 minutes three days a week, consider adding some brief, high-intensity intervals during one of those workouts. (See below for a sample workout).
Recover fully between intervals. The safest way to incorporate HIIT into a beginner workout is to allow for ample recovery time between intervals, says Mary Edwards, fitness director for Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas. “I might have a beginner exerciser work at high intensity for 15 to 30 seconds, and then actively recover at an easy pace for two to four minutes.”
As your fitness improves, shorten your rest periods. “The more fit a person is, the quicker they recover” says Edwards. Use your Fitbit tracker to gauge how quickly your heart rate drops after an intense effort, and then adjust your recovery time accordingly.
The Best HIIT Workout for Beginners
Ready to give HIIT a try? This workout, from Dobrosielski, incorporates periods of light jogging, which studies have shown can add up to three years to your life. It should be safe for anyone who has been consistently exercising for a month, but don’t push yourself past what you’re comfortable doing. Seek a doctor’s opinion before starting, if necessary.
|Week 1||5 minutes easy walk||3 x (1 minute brisk walk/2 minutes easy walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
|Week 2||5 minutes easy walk||4 x (1 min brisk walk/90 seconds easy walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
|Week 3||5 minutes easy walk||5 x (1 min brisk walk/1 min easy walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
|Week 4||5 minutes easy walk||5 x (30 seconds jog/2 minutes walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
|Week 5||5 minutes easy walk||5 x (30 seconds jog/90 seconds walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
|Week 6||5 minutes easy walk||5 x (30 seconds jog/1 minute walk)||2-5 minutes easy walk|
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.