Thirsty (for knowledge) Thursday: High Intensity Workouts Are Good For You

>> Thursday, January 29, 2015

I was alerted to this article in an odd way. The New York Times recently featured this article about the benefits of high intensity exercise, and a former co-worker James O'Brien did the illustration for the article:

Nice work, Jim! (If you're wondering: yes, Jim's a runner too!)

Anyway, on to some of the points in the article. Here's some of what it had to say (with some parts bolded by me):

Many people with chronic health problems resign themselves to lives of modest activity or no activity at all, thinking vigorous exercise is unsafe or that they lack the stamina for it. But recent studies are proving just the opposite.

They are showing that high-intensity exercise may be even better than regular aerobic activities for many patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, pulmonary disease, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

The studies strongly suggest that a more demanding but more efficient and often more enjoyable form of exercise known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is not only safe for most patients but more effective at preventing or reversing the deficits associated with many chronic ailments.

Whoa. Not just for athletes. And with possible major health benefits!

Researchers have found that repeatedly pushing the body close to its exercise limits for very brief periods, interspersed with periods of rest, is more effective than continuous moderate activity at improving cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and mechanical functions.

Instead of continuous movement for 20 or more minutes, as is typical for exercise walkers, joggers and cyclists, HIIT usually involves 30 to 60 seconds of exercise near the peak of a person’s ability, followed by a comparable recovery period of easy activity, with the sequence repeated for a total of about 20 minutes three times a week.

“We know that exercise is good for people at risk of chronic disease, but people tend not to exercise,” said Jonathan P. Little, a specialist in exercise physiology at the University of British Columbia at Okanagan. Yet he and other researchers report that study participants find interval training more enjoyable than continuous aerobic exercise, making it more likely that people will continue it on their own.

I'm actually one of those people that find it "more enjoyable." And I think the crossfit trend is full of people who feel the same way too. (Not that I do crossfit.)

The authors of the study go on to say that high intensity training ISN'T for everyone, just for "low-risk individuals" or "moderate-risk individuals who have been cleared for vigorous intensities by a medical professional." And it's good for LOTS of people:

“We’ve seen, for example, that interval training is remarkably effective at lowering glucose levels in people with diabetes,” Dr. Little said in an interview. “Just one session improves a person’s glucose level.”


By making blood vessels better able to expand, HIIT can improve the cardiovascular system’s ability to respond to added exertion. Oxygen-carrying blood can flow more smoothly through arteries that are wide open, which also reduces the risk of a vessel-blocking clot.

And they say these physical benefits can be seen “after as little as two weeks of training” with high-intensity! And an earlier study done by researches in Canada, France, and Switzerland pointed out that “HIIT appears safe and better tolerated by patients than moderate-intensity continuous exercise” and more effective at increasing patients’ peak oxygen uptake, blood vessel flexibility and pumping ability of the heart.

So don't shy away from those intervals!

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