High Intensity Interval Training - is it Safe for the Elderly?
It is recommended that adults over the age of sixty participate in a minimum of thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day or twenty minutes of vigorous exercise per day to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and injury. Unfortunately, many Australians do not participate in regular physical activity, with a common barrier being time pressures.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) has been well established as a beneficial mode of exercise for adults. As HIIT training is far more time-efficient than other methods of exercise, it has been suggested that HIIT training may increase levels of engagement with exercises.
The human body’s natural aging processes results in reduced muscle strength, fitness and balance, with these age-related changes progressing more rapidly each year we age. These impairments are common in the elderly and can be influential on independence and quality of life. HIIT training has been deemed effective in elderly adults to help slow down the natural aging process and maintain quality of life.
What is HIIT?
HIIT involves short bursts of vigorous exercise (80-90% of heart rate max) between 20 seconds to four minutes, followed by a longer rest period at a lower intensity (<60% heart rate max).
There are a few different ways you can structure your HIIT workouts:
HIIT Aerobic Training
HIIT aerobic training involves adding high intense bursts into a continuous fitness activity such as walking, running, swimming or cycling. There are a few different ways you can incorporate HIIT into your aerobic exercise.
One of the most effective exercise/rest ratios to improve V02 max (a measure of fitness) is called the 4x4 method which involves:
- Four minutes of high effort exercise (85% heart max or higher)
- Followed by three minutes rest
- Repeat for a total of four rounds
An example would be running for 4 minutes continuously at 85% heart rate max, followed by a slow walk for 3 minutes. This combination ideally will be completed a total of four times.
However, if 4 minutes seems like too much, you can modify to shorter high intensity bouts. For example, on a 20 minute walk, instead of maintaining the same pace, each minute you would speed up for 20 seconds, and then slow down for the remaining 40 seconds of the minute. This combination can be continually repeated for the duration of you walk and should result in your heart rate increasing during the ‘effort’ component, and slowing during the rest periods.
You can play around with different combinations to suit your needs. Your main priority during HIIT workout is that you feel yourself working hard during the “effort” component as this will promote your body to adapt to the increased demands, resulting in higher fitness levels.
HIIT Circuit Training
HIIT workouts can be completed as a circuit where you select between 4-8 exercises and work through each exercise continually for a set time (typically between 3-4 minutes).
A HIIT circuit may look something like this:
- 10 squats
- 10 bicep curls
- 10 step ups
- 10 shoulder press
- 10 High knees marching
- Repeat until the timer runs out. Have a short rest (2-3 minutes) and repeat for your desired rounds (ideally 4-5).
Benefits of HIIT for the elderly
HIIT has been investigated in many different cohorts such as cardiac rehabilitation, Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cancer patients, and inactive elderly individuals.
Regularly completing HIIT has shown to:
- Reduce abdominal fat
- Improve V02 max (cardiovascular fitness)
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve cardiac function
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Improve management of cholesterol/lipids
- Reduced cancer fatigue
Is HIIT safe for the elderly?
Elderly individuals, who have been medically cleared for exercise, are safe to engage in regular HIIT. Research suggests there is no increase in serious adverse cardiac events or musculoskeletal injuries when engaging in HIIT compared with moderate intensity exercise. However appropriate exercise prescription can help to minimise risks. All individuals are strongly recommended to seek medical clearance by their doctor prior to engaging in a HIIT program.
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