Posted on Dec 29, 2020, 5 p.m.
Everyone wants to know the secret to healthy extended longevity, and research is showing that 4-minute bursts of strenuous exercise may help with that quest. HIIT included in workout routines provided better protection against premature death than moderate workouts alone.
In this large long term randomized and controlled study, more than 1,500 participants were placed into 3 groups, with one group as control following standard activity guidelines by walking or otherwise remaining in motion for half an hour on most days; the second group doing an exercise program of moderate intensity twice a week for 50 minutes; and the third group starting a high-intensity interval training routine of cycling or jogging at a vigorous pace for 4 minutes, then resting for 4 minutes and repeating the HIIT sequence 4 times.
The participants in general were healthier than most 70-year-olds, with some having heart disease, cancer, or other conditions, few were obese, and most walked regularly or remained active before enrolling in the study. All of the participants agreed to start and continue to exercise more regularly during the study, and for 5 years almost everyone continued on their assigned exercise routines, with regular visits to the lab to check-in for testing and supervised group workouts. During the 5 years, it was noted that many of those in the control group did HIIT classes at the gym on their own initiative for fun, the other groups did not alter their routines.
After 5 years death registries were checked to find that about 4.6% of the original participants had passed away, which is a lower number than that in the wider population of 70-year-olds, indicating that these active seniors were on the whole living longer than their peers. But there were slight distinctions between the groups. Those in the HIIT group were 2% less likely to have died than those in the control group, and they were also 3% less likely to have died than anyone in the longer moderate exercise group.
Those in the moderate group were found to be more likely to have passed away than those in the control and HIIT group. Those in the HIIT group were also found to be more fit and reported greater gains in their quality of life than those in the other groups. According to the researchers, the intense training which was part of the routines for the HIIT group and many of the control group provided slightly better protection against premature death than moderate workouts alone.
This does not mean that exercise was a panacea, as some people still got sick and died regardless of the exercise group they were in. Also, this study focused on those in their 70s and on participants who were Norwegians who tend to be preternaturally more healthy than other populations. Despite the limitations to the study the researchers still believe that the message of the study can still be broadly applicable to almost all people.
“We should try to include some exercise with high intensity,” she says. “Intervals are safe and feasible for most people. And adding life to years, not only years to life, is an important aspect of healthy aging, and the higher fitness and health-related quality of life from H.I.I.T. in this study is an important finding,” says Dr. Dorthe Stensvold, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who led this study.
As with this study and past studies following along these same lines, there is another point to be made here: Don’t wait until you are in your 70s to start exercising, you can easily include some HIIT into your life now. However, if you have never exercised before, please seek out some instruction/guidance before doing so to avoid possible injury. HIIT may be lit, but safety first.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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