We’ve been recommending high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for years… Now, a major new study shows it can reverse a leading cause of heart failure.
University of Texas scientists recruited 53 people ages 45-64. None of them had ever exercised regularly. And their hearts showed it.
They had left ventricular stiffening. It is a common sign of heart aging. It shows up in middle age people who are sedentary. It causes their heart to be weaker and less efficient. Eventually, it can lead to heart failure. It’s also a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and cardiac arrest.1
Researchers wanted to look for ways to restore the subjects’ heart strength.
For two years, participants either started doing HIIT or yoga.
At the end of the study, the HIIT group had big improvements in markers of heart function. They saw an 18% boost in their maximum oxygen intake during exercise. And they had a more than 25% improvement in “plasticity” in the left ventricular muscle of the heart.2
The yoga group had no improvement in heart strength.
Dr. Benjamin Levine is director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He led the study.
HIIT caused “a reversal of decades of a sedentary lifestyle on the heart for most of the study participants,” he said.
The study participants who did HIIT worked their way up to exercising four to five times a week. They generally did 30-minute sessions.3
During one of the weekly sessions, they pushed themselves hard. They maintained a heart rate of 95% of their maximum for four 4-minute intervals.
One or two other sessions were performed at a lower intensity. But participants would still break a sweat and be short of breath.
“We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week,” said Dr. Levine.
He said there is a “sweet spot” in late middle age when the heart can be strengthened…even after a lifetime of little exercise.
The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Circulation.
Reaping the benefits of HIIT requires some dedication. It needs to be performed at least four to five times a week. Two to three times a week is not enough, the researchers found in an earlier study.
And it’s important not to wait too long to start. Dr. Levine notes that after age 65, heart weakness is more difficult to reverse.
High-Intensity Interval Training: Rx for Your Heart
The basic formula for HIIT is simple. Warm up for 3 to 5 minutes…then sprint at an all-out pace for the next minute. Go longer if you can. Then slow to a jog for the next minute or two. Repeat this process 5 to 7 times and then cool down for at least two minutes.
You can apply the HIIT principal to just about any type of cardio exercise. A treadmill, bike, elliptical machine, stair climber, rowing machine, and swimming all work well.4
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