High-intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT, is a fitness trend that just won’t die. Fashionable bootcamp-style classes like Barry’s, spin classes like Psycle and fitness apps like Nike+ Training Club all incorporate short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of gentler activity, and professional athletes have long trained in this way.
The benefits of HIIT are well known – it’s less time consuming than many other workouts, doesn’t require any equipment and has been shown to boost metabolism, and help to burn more fat and calories than you would during longer, lower intensity workouts.
Now, new research has provided another reason why you might want to consider incorporating interval training into your workout routine (if you haven’t already). HIIT has been shown to reverse the ageing process, according to a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The research, carried out by scientists from the Mayo Clinic in the US, studied the effects of different exercise routines on an equal number of men and women. They were split into a young age group (18–30 years) and an older group (65–80 years) and divided into a further three groups based on the workout routine they would follow for 12 weeks.
Each week, the HIIT group had to do three sessions of cycling, which alternated between more- and less intense intervals, and spend two days walking on the treadmill. Another group, which focussed on resistance training, spent two days a week on lower- and upper-body exercises. Meanwhile, the third group did a bit of both – spending five days each week cycling less intensely than the first group and lifting fewer weight than the second group.
Can you guess which group saw the greatest benefits? While everyone’s fitness level improved after the 12-week study period, the HIIT group came up trumps. The body’s capacity for mitochondrial respiration, which helps us to create energy, increased by 49% among the younger HIIT participants and by 69% among their older counterparts.
The HIIT group’s insulin sensitivity also improved, which is linked to a reduced risk of diabetes; and their ribosome activity increased, a process linked to building proteins that create muscle cells.
Dr Sreekumaran Nair, senior author of the study, said HIIT is “highly efficient” in reversing changes to cells caused by ageing because it encourages cells to create more proteins that feed energy production. “Exercise training, especially high-intensity interval training, enhanced the machinery (ribosomes) to produce proteins, increased the production of proteins and enhanced protein abundance in muscle,” he told CNN.
The findings could be used to help scientists create targeted drugs to help those who cannot exercise to gain the benefits of HIIT, he added. We’re booking our next overpriced gym class immediately.