High intensity workouts have received a lot of attention in recent years. Should you jump on board?

Interval training, high intensity workouts, or high intensity interval training (HIIT) … whatever name it goes by, this type of activity involves brief bursts of very intense exercise interspersed with longer periods of less intense movement. The reason for all the fuss is that exercise scientists claim you can burn more kilojoules doing 15 minutes of intensity training than you can jogging on a treadmill for 60 minutes. If this conjures up visions of Lycra-clad 30-somethings bouncing around the gym, and you’re on the wrong side of 50, then you might be thinking it’s not for you.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic disagree, with findings showing that HIIT can improve health and fitness for just about everyone, and the benefits were even greater for older adults. According to the researchers, it’s never too late to start and experience impressive results.

What the studies show

A recent study centred around the health benefits of high intensity exercise for the over 50s in particular, and the results have been promising. Volunteers did ‘interval walking’, which involved striding briskly for three minutes and then slowly for another three. Improvements in endurance and blood pressure were significantly greater than for those who walked at a moderate pace for the same amount of time. Lung, heart and circulation also improved by 17 per cent in the interval-walking group.

Giving it your all

The problem with a high intensity workout is that although it’s short in duration, it can be punishing. Adding music to the mix can help. Using music to motivate us to exercise is nothing new, but it appears to have an even more powerful effect with interval training. Listening to music during a high intensity workout significantly alters perception of the level of difficulty. It mutes the feelings of discomfort and makes those burst of vigorous activity achievable.

Be careful

Always check with your doctor before starting a new workout routine, especially if you have an ongoing health condition. Many studies have concluded, however, that intervals can be safe and beneficial for people with diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.

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