Many factors play into our physical health, including diet, exercise, and habits that directly impact the body. Unfortunately, age is an inevitable factor of physical health. As we age, our bodies tend to slow down. Crucial players in bodily functions start to fade. Slower functions and fading elements limit our abilities and increase symptoms like pain, aches, and the risk of disease.

Aging is a natural process, but there are ways that you can halt or slow down the aging process. In fact, adding high intensity interval training into your life can reverse signs of aging at microscopic levels of the body.

What is HIIT, and how does it work to help the body age at a slower rate? Read more about high intensity interval training (HIIT,) how this hot exercise trend benefits the body, and how you can start turning back the clock with HIIT.

What Is HIIT?

If you’re new to the idea of HIIT, you’re not alone. HIIT has recently taken a top spot as one of the hottest crazes in exercise. HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is a form of exercise that includes quick bursts of high-intensity exercises following by short breaks.

One of the most basic examples of a HIIT routine is three minutes of intense sprinting followed by thirty seconds of walking in place. These routines do not look the same for everyone, but they must involve pushing the body to its limits and beyond during the exercise period. If you aren’t panting and sweating quickly, you’re not putting in enough effort.

The high intensity is crucial for using up oxygen in the body. And this oxygen usage is the key to reaping the physical benefits of HIIT, even after the exercise is over. That’s one of the reasons why experts recommend that participants start out with HIIT routines only one or twice a week at first. The “work” that you put in with HIIT continues after you leave the gym and go about your day, so you don’t need to constantly do HIIT routines.

The Scientific Benefits of HIIT, At A Cellular Level

Studies show that HIIT has the ability to reverse the aging process, down to the mitochondrial level. One study in particular, published in Cell Metabolism, suggested what HIIT fans have known for a while; HIIT makes you feel younger because it actually halts the aging process of cells in the body.

The Study

The study involved 72 men and women in two different age groups. The younger group was between the ages of 18-30 years old, and the older group was between the ages of 65-80 years old. Participants were split into one of three different exercise groups. One group completed HIIT training in the form of intense cycling. A second group completed strength training. The third did a combination of the two exercise routines.

(Want to know the secret to the successful HIIT cycling routine? Participants cycled for four minutes at a high intensity, followed by three minutes of recovering. They repeated this cycle four times, three days a week. Two days a week, they continued their routine with a walk on the treadmill.

Throughout the study, the following were measured:

  • The makeup of muscle cells in the thighs
  • Lean muscle mass
  • Insulin sensitivity

The Results

The measurements relating to the makeup of muscle cells was key. The younger group who participated in the HIIT routine saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, but the older group saw a 69% increase. (What’s surprising is that the older group benefited even more from the HIIT exercises.)

This is important to note; as we age, our mitochondrial capacity decreases. This is why researchers credit HIIT as an exercise that “turns back the clock.” It reverses the decrease in mitochondrial capacity that is typically accredited to aging. The 65-year old participants may have developed similar capacities to an equally healthy 40-year old (but this is just speculation.)

The group that participated in the strength training did not see a significant increase in their mitochondrial capacity. Of the participants who combined HIIT with strength training, only the younger group saw significant increases in mitochondrial capacity.

This is a result unique to HIIT. No pill or alternative, “easier” solution can produce the same benefits at the cellular level. Sreekumaran Nair, a senior author of the study and doctor at the Mayo Clinic, said this about the study’s results: “Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process. These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”

The Mitochondria is the Powerhouse of the Cell…But What Does That Mean?

Not sure what all of this means? We’ll break it down for you.

Deep within the cells of your body, mitochondria are working hard to aid energy production. They take nutrients (which includes the food you consume, as well as the oxygen that you breathe) and break these nutrients down until they can be used to “feed” the cell. Once the cell is well-fed, it can continue to serve its purpose and perform its primary function.

The primary functions of the cell include metabolic processes that increase energy in the body. The larger cell turns nutrients into energy, which fuel the body as we breathe, eat, exercise, or do anything else that we need to survive.

So when mitochondrial capacity is increased, the mitochondria can perform its functions with more space. The overall cellular health is directly influenced by mitochondrial capacity. Researchers in the study were essentially measuring the participants’ ability to take oxygen into the cells and use it for cell functioning and the production of energy.

Cellular health is crucial to the health of every part of your body. Your cells make up muscles, tissues, and the organs that work every day to keep you alive and active. When you find an exercise routine, like HIIT, that benefits your mitochondria, you set your body up for a healthy and active life.

Wrapping Up the Study

Let’s just make it really simple. HIIT increases your ability to produce energy. That energy will fuel your body and make you feel young.

So you’re not going to see wrinkles go away from HIIT routines, but you will start to feel more fresh, energized, and healthy. All thanks to the work of HIIT on your mitochondria.

Other Ways that HIIT Helps Aging Bodies

The benefits of HIIT do not just appear deep down in the cells. Throughout the body, studies have seen HIIT benefit the body in many ways.

  • The same study in Cell Metabolism revealed that HIIT could decrease the risk of developing diabetes. The risk for diabetes, specifically Type 2 diabetes, increases with age. In 2015, the age group with the highest rate of diabetes diagnoses was 45-64. HIIT helped to improve insulin sensitivity across all both age groups, which is a key factor in developing diabetes. This is not the first study to suggest this; over 50 studies have suggested that HIIT is better at reducing blood sugar levels than traditional exercise routines.
  • HIIT can help to prevent cardiovascular disease. It does this through intense training down to the cellular level. The high intensity element of HIIT also helps participants lose weight and burn subcutaneous fat, which has a direct impact on a person’s risk of heart disease. Subcutaneous fat is some of the hardest fat to lose, showing once again that HIIT has unique benefits compared to more traditional exercise routines.
  • While the study mentioned above pit a HIIT routine against strength training, HIIT routines can help to build strength. HIIT routines that involve intense exercises with strength-building exercises can help you see the gains you are looking for.
  • HIIT can also improve memory and general cognitive function. Remember, cellular health won’t just impact your muscles. You have cells all over your body, including in your nervous system and your brain!
  • Want to reduce your blood pressure? HIIT will do the job for you. Outside studies that measured HIIT and blood pressure revealed that a HIIT routine could help to reduce high blood pressure to healthier levels. This study showed that the impact was more significant in adults who started the program overweight or obese.

Start Turning Back the Clock With HIIT

Aside from the physical benefits, HIIT is an option for everyone. Whether you only have 10 minutes a day to yourself or a whole hour for exercise, you can incorporate a HIIT routine into your life and start turning back the clock.

The cycle routine mentioned in the study is just one option. HIIT can be performed without any equipment at all, from anywhere! HIIT routines can be found online or at your local fitness center. If you live in the wider Houston area, you can attend a HIIT-focused class at beatStrong. Our trainers and staff are always here to work with gym members and discuss HIIT routines that work for you, your schedule, and your physical goals.

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