HIIT: The Ideal Exercise for Healthy Aging
In the ever changing world of health and fitness, there’s always something new. This has its good points and its bad points, but one of the very good points is that we always have fresh new stuff to try! Always new ways of looking at exercise and taking stock of our own health and fitness level.
As we age, finding the fountain of youth becomes less and less likely. Gray hair, wrinkles and sore joints begin to creep in take over. Somewhere along the line it dawns on us (or maybe “grudging acceptance” is a better description for it), that we’re not going to stay young forever.
Somewhere along the line these aches and pains settle in, take longer to go away, and that’s a real bummer.
Aging doesn’t have to be such a downer though; there is a lot of goodness that comes with being a little more… wizened… in life. Where exercise is concerned, having a long and fruitful relationship with exercises is a continued chance to keep things fresh, keep in touch with your body, and keep exploring your own boundaries. Fitness is all about reaching a little further, running a little harder, lifting a little more, and generally being better than we were yesterday. And that’s just one reason why HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) may be your next best thing… particularly if you’re getting a little older.
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is pretty much what it sounds like: short bursts of high-intensity movement, interspersed with short periods of rest. You can see early versions of this theory in things like interval runs, and a technique called Fartlek, wherein a runner picks up the pace for a short period of time, varies the terrain they run on as well, to challenge the body in new ways. It eliminates boredom, and it trains the body in a more all-around way. (1)
HIIT Aging Where It Hurts
Why is it so great for aging bodies? A few reasons.
First, as the aging process takes place, frankly there’s just a lot going on… and there also tends to be a chain reaction to things. You twist your ankle when you’re hiking one weekend, and next thing you know you haven’t been to the gym in a month. Now your lower back hurts again like it did years ago. You want to go work out… get it back in fighting shape… but it hurts. Maybe tomorrow. It happens to the best of us. But this is the exact chain reaction that will lead to a long term relationship with your couch, if you don’t do something about it right now.
Regular HIIT workouts target a whole bunch of things all at once, integrating strength, balance and cardio too. All of these things have to be used together to keep your body in action. HIIT asks every part of you to get on board, and that means less potential for the snowball effect begun by the happens-to-the-best-of-us-post-hiking-spill couch marathon. HIIT builds an all-around strong and healthy body, and that’s true if you’re 20 years old or 60, which is a beautiful thing. So skipping leg day (again, for the 100th time) isn’t really an option. Leg day is built right into your (astonishingly short) HIIT workout.
Second, they are astonishingly short. Four minutes is normal, twenty minutes is quite a lot. (2) Mostly with 30 seconds of intensity followed by 30 seconds of rest, it has a nice rhythm to it that makes it easy to get into the groove. And because these intervals are relatively short, you can really pour it on, and this added oomph is what scientists are pretty sure has such an impressive impact on your mitochondria… the cellular level that HIIT digs right into.
Cells Feel The HIIT Too
Scientists have long suspected that regular and proper exercise has deep effects, all the way down to the cellular level. I mean, one look at Jane Fonda should tell you that there’s definitely something to a periodic sweat sesh.
The short story of mitochondria is that they are cells which help convert proteins to energy. And, when we’re younger, these babies are really efficient. But, as we age, they lose steam. They just aren’t as efficient at converting proteins. We lose energy, vitality.
But researchers recently found that interval training like HIIT, has a natural knack for boosting the body’s ability to build mitochondrial proteins. And when the mitochondria can do their thing, that means the magic is back! (3) No, it’s not the fountain of youth. But with the ability to convert proteins like they once could, your mitochondrial DNA has effectively won the battle for now! Continued HIIT sessions just mean you’ll continue to get stronger, and that’s great news for every part of you… down to the very cells you’re made of.
No matter where you are on the path toward optimal fitness, it’s never too late to start. Pick up your body and move it, and before long you’ll begin seeing benefits. There is nothing more empowering than getting stronger, and nothing more fun than a happy body that can move and play. Do what you can, starting right now, and your body will thank you!