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High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Is Not Just For Athletes, But Inactive Adults Too!

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
High Intensity Interval Training is for everyone say study

A new study shows that High Intensity Interval Training is not just for athletes, but is also recommended for relatively inactive adults too as a great way to increase fitness, build stamina and lose weight.

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For Athletes-Only Exercise?

According to a news release from University of British Columbia Okanagan campus, Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences and lead author of a new study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, believes that previous views of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Sprint Interval Training (SIT) held by public health experts excludes inactive adults from benefiting from exercise normally categorized as for “athletes-only.”

HIIT is based on the concept of high-intensity interval training, which involves very short, very strenuous bursts of exercise that reaches approximately 80-90 percent of a person's maximum heart rate, while interspersed with periods of rest that last 20-25 minutes or less. SIT is a type of HIIT, that involves shorter bouts of activity, but at an even higher, "all-out" level of intensity.

The researcher and his colleagues posit that many people are needlessly intimidated to try such workouts; and in fact, could benefit greatly from it by integrating it into their daily routines to help them become more physically active and fit.

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"The physiological benefits of HIIT or SIT [sprint interval training] are well established," says Matthew Stork. "What has been difficult to nail down is if interval-based exercise should be promoted in public health strategies. If so, how can we help people, especially those who are less physically active, get that kind of exercise on a regular basis and over the long term?"

One of the hurdles of promoting HIIT and SIT to the average person as a public health strategy is that many health experts do not believe that it is sustainable for the average person who is relatively inactive, and that it may actually deter people from sticking with it in the long-term.

Storks and his colleagues, however, argue that this view may not be an accurate one-size-fits-all categorization of what type(s) of exercise are best-suited for the public.

"Unsurprisingly, different people tolerate different exercise programs in different ways," says Stork. "That makes it difficult to establish the 'best' exercise program for the 'average' person. There's little research to unpack the experiences and perceptions of HIIT and SIT compared to traditional continuous exercise in the way we have in this study."

How Do Non-Athletes Respond To High Intensity Interval Training?

To ascertain how relatively inactive adults would respond both physically and psychologically to moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and sprint interval training (SIT), the researchers recruited 30 inactive adults—18 men and 12 women—who participated in the aforementioned types of continuous and interval exercise under both a controlled lab setting and on their own free time outside of the lab environment.

Afterward, the participants were surveyed by the researchers regarding how they felt about the differing exercises, and discussed with them the trade-offs they perceived of high intensity interval training style exercise versus the more traditional exercise style most people adopt when starting to take up exercising for fitness and weight loss.

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What the surveys revealed was that there is quite a bit of variability in how people perceive exercise of any type, and that factors influencing their experiences and views are complex and in need of further study. However, the surveys also showed that activities like HIIT and SIT can be integrated within traditional exercise routines that would benefit adults.

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An Example of How HIIT Can Be Used By Non-Athletes

"I think many people assume that they need to go all-in on one form of exercise—if they're a 'HIIT person,' they must have to do HIIT all the time," he says. "But what I'm seeing is that different forms of exercise can be used interchangeably and that people should approach their exercise with a flexible 'menu' of options."

Stork posits an example of how HIIT can be integrated into daily routines that fits the needs of very busy adults and those who do not like sticking to the same exercise routines every day.

"Maybe one day you only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a HIIT session while your child naps, but the next day you prefer an hour-long hike up the mountain to destress from work. As long as you're getting a bit of exercise, you should feel empowered to choose a protocol that fits your needs in that particular time and situation."

"If we can provide more guidance on how people can adapt interval exercise to cater to their own fitness levels and needs, the more likely they may actually enjoy it and stay motivated. I'm a big believer in the benefits of regular physical activity, and the more barriers we can remove, the better."

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Image by Tumisu from Pixabay


References:

When is HIIT the best exercise fit?” University of British Columbia Okanagan campus news release, 20 September 2020.

Unpacking the debate: A qualitative investigation of first-time experiences with interval exercise” Psychology of Sport and Exercise Volume 51, November 2020.

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