High-Intensity Workouts: Good at Any Age

In All Health Watch, Featured Article, Fitness and Exercise, General Health, Longevity

Seniors may hesitate to do a short, strenuous workout. They fear they are too frail. Or that their heart might give out.

But a new study shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best type of exercise…no matter your age.

And it is safe and well tolerated by seniors.

In HIIT, a person does very intense, short bursts of activity in between periods of recovery.

For example, you would warm up for 3 to 5 minutes, do very intense exercise for 30 to 60 seconds, and then do slow, easy exercise for a minute or two to recover. Then you go back to the very intense exercise burst.

Usually this process is repeated up to seven times, followed by a two-minute cool down. A HIIT session can be as short as 15 minutes. You can incorporate HIIT into just about any kind of cardio activity, such as running, biking, or swimming.

If you’re a regular Health Watch reader, you know that studies show HIIT provides more health benefits than traditional, longer, less-intense workouts. HIIT practitioners achieve more weight loss and better heart health.

But until the new study, researchers had never looked at HIIT in seniors. Previous research had focused on subjects under 60.

Scientists at the University of Buffalo tested HIIT in animal models. They used mice that were the human equivalent of 65 years old.1

Mice are used in medical testing because their genetic, biological, and behavior characteristics closely resemble those of humans.2
The researchers took baseline health assessments of the mice, including weight, physical strength, endurance, and frailty based on accepted medical criteria. Then they split the animals into two groups.

One group remained in a sedentary lifestyle. The other group did 10-minute high-intensity treadmill exercises. They did the workout three times a week for 16 weeks.

During the workouts, the mice would sprint for one minute and then walk for one minute. They repeated this five times.3

The researchers even went so far as slowing the treadmill if a mouse faltered. This more closely replicates HIIT in seniors who would exercise to their individual level of physical fitness.4

The 16-week period approximated about eight years of human life. This is the equivalent of tracking the health of a senior from age 65 to 73, a time when a physical decline would be expected. 

Amazing Health Benefits of HIIT

But at the end of the study, the results were stunning. The HIIT animals:

  • Increased their strength by 10.9% versus a 3.9% decrease in mice that didn’t exercise.
  • Increased endurance by 32.6% versus a 2% decrease.
  • Increased regular activity speed by 107% versus a 39% decrease.

One of the most important aspects of physical health for seniors is their ability to keep their balance, avoid injury, and maintain strength. This is often referred to as “frailty.” And it’s crucial in whether an older person can live independently.

In the study, the frailty scores of all the HIIT mice improved. In fact, animals that were frail before the study were no longer frail afterwards.

HIIT Is Safe for Seniors

Dr. Bruce Troen is head of the division of geriatrics at the University of Buffalo. He led the study.

The research shows that unless seniors have debilitating health conditions, they don’t need to worry that HIIT will hurt them. Older animals “tolerated the high-intensity interval training well,” he said.

Another advantage to HIIT is that you don’t have to spend long hours exercising. “You get done so quickly,” said Dr. Troen.

His study was published in the Journal of Gerontology.

Check with your doctor before you try HIIT. Start slowly and build your strength and endurance over time. Some health clubs are beginning to offer HIIT classes specifically for seniors.

Editor’s Note: There’s another thing you should know about getting older. Recent studies show the symptoms of aging are just like any others. They can be treated or eliminated. Go here to discover specific ways you can stop the clock.

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1 https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/gerona/glx120/3869810/High-Intensity-Interval-Training-HIIT-improves
2 https://www.livescience.com/32860-why-do-medical-researchers-use-mice.html
3 https://academic.oup.com/biomedgerontology/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/gerona/glx120/3869810/High-Intensity-Interval-Training-HIIT-improves
4 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/well/move/high-intensity-workouts-may-be-good-at-any-age.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&action=click&contentCollection=health&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0