Over the course of years, the exercise recommendations for good health seems to change every few years. If you are old enough, you probably remember when the recommendation for aerobic exercise was to walk 20 minutes, 3 times a week. Of course, what we know today from ongoing research and what we knew 45 years ago are worlds apart. That 20 minutes became 30 minutes which became more than 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. In 2008, we got the following instructions for how much exercise we should be doing to reap substantial health benefits; all Americans should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity—or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity—aerobic physical activity each week.
Yaacov Meir is a 51 year old skype client from New Jersey. He is overweight with a BMI of 31.4 and has high blood pressure and is pre-diabetic. His family physician has him on two different blood pressure medications, both of which have had noticeable side effects and he also has begun a minimal dose of Glucophage to keep his sugar in check. His doctor also asked him to do daily walks of 30 minutes each. Although his sugar has gotten lower, it is still too high and the blood pressure meds have only lowered his pressure slightly. He got in touch with my office asking if we can help him restore good health. After his initial workup with one of our dieticians, we began to concentrate more on his exercise and some very interesting results occurred, but it took a while.
As Yaacov had already been doing 30 minute daily walks at moderate intensity, I began to talk to him about the great benefits of exercising more intensely when possible. It’s absolutely true that moderate exercise has many benefits. For many if not most people, getting in the 150 minutes per week while staying active otherwise can improve your health, prevent many terrible diseases and can enhance your quality of life. But if we can increase the intensity from time to time, all of these benefits can be far more pronounced. In addition, there are some advantages to higher intensity exercise that we just won’t get from moderate exercise.
How can I get more intense?
It isn’t practical for most of us adults to exercise intensely all the time. All out exercising doesn’t give us aerobic benefit if we are above the aerobic range and the risk of injury is much higher. It’s one thing when we are children or teenagers running around playing all the time, but as adults, our bodies aren’t built for that and needless to say, we are highly occupied with the daily responsibilities of learning, working, and raising our families. So, how can I get the benefits of high intensity exercise without getting hurt and with actually saving time and maximizing my workout time? The answer is to use a technique called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). It can be applied to any form of exercise. Newer research has revealed that short–burst HIIT, or sprint interval training elicits meaningful cardiovascular and metabolic responses (Boutcher 2011).
What is HIIT and how do I apply it?
The basic idea is to take any aerobic exercise you might be doing, let’s say you are walking 35 minutes per day at a moderate pace, and every so often, doing the same exercise more intensely. So in this case, every fourth minute or so you can power walk as fast as you can or break into a jog for one minute and then you would go back into the original pace you were walking for another four minutes and then repeating this again for the entire 35 minute session. If you were swimming you can decide that every tenth lap will be very fast and then return to your previous pace. So the 10th, 20th, 30th laps and so on, will be almost all out effort. You can apply this to biking or any other aerobic mode you are using. Speed is only one way to add intensity. Using hills, steps, inclines on a treadmill or putting more resistance on your exercise bike or elliptical every so often also does the job. The benefits of exercising in this manner are very beneficial.
The benefits of HIIT
The benefits of higher intensity exercise in general are well known and all of them are realized using HIIT. In other words, by adding occasional intensity into your current workout, you get all the same great health benefits without adding any additional (and valuable) time to your workouts. Here are the main benefits of HIIT:
- Helps build endurance– High intensity training enables you to increase your endurance while doing any type of exercise. A study showed participants doubling the length of time they could ride a bicycle while keeping the same pace because of HIIT.
- Boosts metabolism –High Intensity Interval Training helps you consume more oxygen than a non-interval workout routine. This the increases metabolism and burns more calories at a faster rate.
- Is very good for your brain and mood-Anytime we can exercise with intensity, it helps our general mood as high-level aerobics, even in short spurts changes the neuropathway function in our brain. It also secretes more of our feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. This type of high intensity exercise has also proven effective in breaking addictive behaviors.
- Burns calories and fat in a shorter period of time – HIIT is great if you have a limited amount of time to work out. Studies show that 15 minutes of high intensity interval training burns more calories than jogging on a treadmill for an hour.
- Burn calories and fat hours after you leave the gym– 24 hours after a HIIT workout your body is still burning calories and fat at an elevated rate whereas in steady-pace workouts, it won’t.
- No equipment necessary– HIIT workouts are extremely cost efficient because you need zero equipment! All you need is a little open space. Go outdoors and walk, jog, bike or skip rope using HIIT.
- Good for heart health – They say that intense training helps build better results. With interval training it’s easier to push yourself to that level because of the rest interval that comes right after you reach that point. This helps keep a healthy heart and helps blood flow effectively throughout your whole body.
- Faster Results – HIIT is good for both beginners and expert exercisers as a quick way to see results and you can never get bored with your workout!
I changed Yaacov Meir’s workout. We took the same 30 minute walk and after every 4.5 minutes, he walked as fast as he could for 30 seconds before returning to his moderate pace. After a week, we extended that interval to 60 seconds. And two weeks after that, the fast walk turned into and jog and shortly after, we extended the entire workout to 35 minutes. So Yaacov Meir was now putting in 7 sets of jogging and only extended the workout 5 minutes. So without much more time expenditure, Yaacov Meir’s health began to get much better. After 3 months of this routine with some minor changes in his food intake, he lost a few kilos but more importantly, his sugar returned to normal and his blood pressure returned to a normal range—and he no longer needs medication. His spouse commented that he seemed to be in a better frame of mind and happier than he was before.
Exercise is of great importance to living a healthy life, but adding intensity has too many benefits to pass up. Don’t do too much too fast! Work up to a good HIIT workout at least 2 or 3 times a week and add your moderate exercise routine on the other days and it will “add hours to our day, days to your year and years to our life”.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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