We’ve told you for years that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are better for your heart than long hours of traditional cardio exercise like jogging.
Now a new study shows that the benefits of HIIT reach the cellular level. They strengthen a crucial cell structure that provides energy to your entire body.
Mitochondria are often called the powerhouses of our cells. They take in nutrients and process them to provide cellular energy. They are critical for good health.1
Over time, our mitochondria gradually wear out. This leads to diminished energy as we age.
Now, a study from Victoria University’s Institute of Sport Exercise and Active Living in Australia has found that HIIT improves mitochondrial function. This leads to beneficial changes in cells that ward off chronic disease.
What’s more, HIIT requires a fraction of the time of traditional workouts.2
The research team looked at subjects who did three types of cycling workouts:
- Moderate intensity—A half hour of continuous exercise, with peak effort not exceeding 50%.
- High-intensity interval training—Five four-minute sessions at 75% peak effort. One minute of rest in between.
- Sprint cycling—Four maximum-effort, 30-second sessions with 4 1/2-minute breaks between sessions (similar to HIIT).
The researchers assessed mitochondrial changes in the subjects’ thigh muscles before and after the workouts. They also gauged the amount of energy the subjects expended.
They found that exercise changed the levels of hydrogen peroxide in the mitochondria. Hydrogen peroxide is involved in cell signaling. Too much can cause cellular damage. But all three forms of exercise seemed to promote the right amount to benefit metabolic function.
HIIT and sprint cycling produced the same cellular benefits as the more time-consuming moderate-intensity exercise.
The researchers wrote that just two minutes of interval exercise was “sufficient to elicit similar responses as 30 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.”
That means you can exchange a little more effort during exercise for a lot less of your time and get the same health benefits.
A Few Minutes Is All It Takes
HIIT is adaptable to many different activities. This includes running, biking, swimming, calisthenics, or using a rowing, star climber, or elliptical machine.
Warm up for three to five minutes doing your chosen form of exercise.
Then do the exercise at the highest intensity level you can for the next minute.
Slow down for the next minute or two to catch your breath. Then go hard again for another minute.
Repeat this process five to seven times. Afterward, do the activity slowly for at least two minutes to cool down.
The idea is to push your body for a brief burst, and then allow it to recover. HIIT allows you stay in great shape even when you don’t have time for a long workout.