Even if you haven’t tried it, you’ve probably heard the buzz about high-intensity interval training, which alternates short bursts of vigorous exercise with brief periods of active recovery (as in: exercising at a slower pace). Besides being a shorter regimen than most continuous workouts are, aerobic high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, allows you to burn more calories and push your heart rate more than you could with steady-state exercise, thus boosting your overall aerobic capacity faster. Believe it or not, HIIT also confers specific health benefits, some of which are fairly surprising.
Here are four HIIT perks for your body and mind.
It Promotes Better Blood Sugar Regulation
HIIT can help lower your blood sugar levels and reduce abdominal fat, thereby lowering your risk of developing insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes. In fact, a study published in the July 2014 issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that a single HIIT session does a better job of modulating the spike in blood sugar that typically occurs after a meal than a continuous moderate-intensity workout does among overweight adults.
“Your muscles are like a large sink that sucks up blood sugar after exercise: When you do HIIT – as opposed to steady state walking, for example – you call upon more muscle fibers to do the work,” explains study lead author Jonathan Little, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at The University of British Columbia Okanagan. “As a result, you have a larger sink that’s hungry to suck up blood sugar after exercise.”
For the same reason, HIIT also can be beneficial for those who already have Type 2 diabetes. A study published in the March 2017 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that people with Type 2 diabetes who did 12 weeks of HIIT (walking or running uphill) gained greater increases in their aerobic capacity and more dramatic reductions in their hemoglobin A1C levels – an average measure of blood sugar over a three-month period – than those who did moderate-intensity continuous walking.
It Improves Blood Vessel Function
HIIT has also been shown to improve vascular (or blood vessel) function. In a review of seven randomized trials, published in the May 2015 issue of Sports Medicine, researchers found that performing HIIT three times per week for 12 to 16 weeks improved measures of vascular function in the brachial artery – a major blood vessel in the upper arm and the primary supplier of blood to the arm and hand – twice as well as moderate-intensity continuous training did. This is significant because good vascular function helps blood vessels relax, which can lower blood pressure. “As we age, endothelial dysfunction (an imbalance in the substances that make the lining of the blood vessels dilate and constrict) tends to occur and is linked to elevated blood pressure and increased risk of heart attacks,” Little explains.