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HIIT and Your Heart

Everyone knows working out is good for you. However, did you know that how you work out can have a large impact on your health? For many, just getting to the gym or going for a brisk walk is an accomplishment. But if you look at the latest studies, it seems less exercise may actually be better for your health if done right. Sounds great, right? High-intensity interval training is nothing new for athletes. Often abbreviated as “HIIT,” this training method helps build endurance and strengthen muscles while delivering a heart-friendly cardio workout in a fraction of the time of traditional training methods. Brookhaven Heart is always looking for the best exercise methods to improve the health and quality of life for our patients. We are happy to provide you with the latest information on interval training and how it can contribute to improving your health dramatically with just a few minutes each day!

What Is HIIT?

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a form of exercise in which you alternate periods of intense, quick cardio sessions with short intervals of rest in-between. For example, the Journal of Applied Physiology completed a study in which patients with type 2 diabetes complete a two-week HIIT program. The patients performed ten 60-second bouts on a bicycle with 60-second breaks in-between. Researchers found that with as little as thirty minutes per week, the patients exhibited improved glucose control and metabolic improvements.

HIIT can be either high-volume or low-volume. Low-volume HIIT consists of intervals of exercise that are longer but include a longer recovery time. High-volume HIIT consists of short bursts of vigorous cardio with very short rest periods. Differences in the length of rest periods didn’t seem to impact the benefits of the high-intensity exercise, but more people reported to like the shorter rest periods and shorter intense cardio intervals when compared to the longer intervals. Many people described the HIIT workouts as motivating, entertaining, and less boring than working out for longer periods of time. When patients are motivated to workout, they are more likely to do it!

It is important to note that you should only exercise for as long as you feel comfortable doing so. Throughout our research into HIIT, doctors urged patients to set the duration and intensity to what they felt comfortable performing. Take things slow and take a break when you need to. If you continue to feel ill, it is important that you contact a medical professional right away.

What Is the Alternative to HIIT?

Traditionally, doctors have promoted continuous moderate intensity exercise that be performed for a solid 20-60 minutes. This is quite different than a high-intensity interval method that averages 10 minutes. United States public health guidelines recommend the average American should perform a minimum 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. While sustained exercise for that duration has proven benefits, not many people are able to devote so much time to exercise. With more people working multiple jobs while juggling family time, free time to invest in your health is at a minimum. It is well known that when individuals don’t exercise, their health suffers. It is perfectly acceptable if you find HIIT is not tolerable, or you prefer a longer, steadier form of exercise. The most important thing is for you to remain active throughout the week. More people find high-intensity interval training is easily scheduled into their week. Therefore, they are more likely to participate in a regular exercise program, which is key to maintaining good health.

Benefits of HIIT and Your Health

HIIT has been impressing researchers with the incredible benefits it gives, especially with the little time a patient has to invest in the exercise. In fact, studies have shown that HIIT was more effective than moderate-intensity continuous exercise for reversing left ventricular remodeling in patients with heart failure. Other studies link HIIT with improved VO2Max in patients with metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Many studies are linking HIIT to increased weight loss and improved metabolism. The majority of participants in a variety of different studies showed improvement in…

  • Heart health
  • Body composition
  • Blood pressure
  • Glucose control
  • Weight loss
  • Improved endurance

A surprising benefit: more patients found HIIT was fun and enjoyable. Many reported they would be more likely to stick to a HIIT exercise program than a traditional sustained cardio workout regimen. As high-intensity interval programs continue to be studied, we are sure more significant benefits will be discovered.

How Often Should You Perform HIIT?

The majority of high-intensity interval programs that have been researched only lasted for a few weeks and consisted of HIIT one to three times per week. One Norwegian study showed that a single weekly bout of HIIT reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease in both men and women who participated. Increasing the duration or number of exercises didn’t add any benefits, oddly enough. There still needs to be more research on how much or how often a patient should perform HIIT exercises. There may be limitations or specific recommendations depending on your diagnosis. However, it seems even one session a week can yield incredible health benefits.

If you are thinking of starting a HIIT program, it is best to start out small and build up. Begin with one session per week and set a goal to perform your intervals two or three times per week.

Can Heart Patients Perform HIIT?

One concern many people have with starting an intense exercise program is the impact it could have on their current health issues. Brookhaven Heart always encourages patients to sit and talk with their specialists before starting any exercise program. Studies are reassuring that HIIT is tolerated well by patients with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and a history of heart failure. Many doctors have encouraged patients to choose duration, intensity, and interval length and perform the workouts to their comfort level. When looking at either starting a HIIT program or moderate sustained cardio program, it seems HIIT is safer and tolerated better by cardiac patients. Many people have seen vast improvements in their cardiac health when adhering to a HIIT-based exercise program. While it may depend on your particular health concerns, most people should be able to start a HIIT-based program. Your doctor can advise you on the intensity or duration of intervals you should begin with.

If you experience any of the following, you should cease your HIIT program and call your doctor:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath that does not go away
  • Nausea
  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen legs
  • Trouble walking

HIIT and Heart Transplants

Heart transplantation for end-stage heart failure is becoming a common treatment option. Patients who have had heart transplants tend to be cautious about engaging in intense and vigorous cardiovascular exercise post-transplant. Many patients feel as though their exercise tolerance is less than that of healthy individuals, which puts them in a vulnerable position when engaging in high-intensity exercise. However, HIIT can help heart transplant patients with increasing oxygen intake, reducing recovery time, and overall improvement of exercise tolerance. In this particular study, patients were split into two groups. One group completed HIIT three times a week for 12 weeks. The other group completed continued moderate exercise three times a week for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, both groups were compared. HIIT provided patients with more benefits overall in heart health. However, the study showed benefits were lost after five months without maintaining the HIIT exercise program. It is crucial that you are consistent and incorporate HIIT into a lifelong exercise routine.

HIIT and Heart Disease Prevention

High-intensity interval training is a great way to prevent heart disease from occurring. One study performed by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found 15-second exercise intervals at peak power mixed with passive recovery of the same duration were most effective in preventing cardiovascular disease. With changing your lifestyle by incorporating regular exercise, you can achieve many great side benefits that reduce your risk of heart-related diseases. HIIT helps patients lose weight and improve body composition, and can contribute to reducing risks of many illnesses. For individuals who claim they do not have the time to invest in a continued moderate exercise program, HIIT may be the best way to prevent heart disease.

HIIT and Weight Loss

To lose weight, it is no surprise when doctors say to exercise more and eat less. However, it seems that how you exercise can send your weight loss into overdrive. High-intensity intervals increase the effectiveness of your workout, increase your metabolic rate, and provide more weight loss when compared to continuous moderate exercise. A study published in the clinical journal entitled Metabolism reports HIIT improves skeletal muscle metabolism and decreases subcutaneous fat when compared to a lower intensity sustained workout. By simply losing weight, you are cutting your risk of heart-related illness substantially.

HIIT Reduces Inflammation

There is a correlation between being overweight and inflammation. This low-grade inflammation is an important risk marker for a variety of different metabolic and heart diseases. By reducing your percentage of body fat, you decrease your risk of developing serious and lifelong health complications.  It seems that HIIT not only is a time-effective method of achieving this, but also may be even more effective overall when compared to slower, traditional methods of exercise.

Start Moving Now!

The overwhelming consensus when it comes to cardiovascular health and exercise is that you need to move and do so regularly. HIIT is a time-effective way that you can begin your training to improve heart health. To get started with a HIIT program, do the following:

  • Make an appointment with your heart specialist to discuss HIIT and how you plan to begin your program.
  • Set a date and place where you can safely sprint and stop without injury.
  • Download a timer or specific HIIT smartphone app to assist you in calculating your intervals.
  • Stop if you feel sick or dizzy, are unable to catch your breath, or experience chest pain.
  • After you complete your workout, record how many intervals you were able to complete and the duration for each one. This can help you track your progress.
  • Follow up with your doctor after you finish a few weeks to ensure your heart can handle the increased aerobic workout.
  • Incorporate HIIT or some form of exercise into your daily routine to maintain the health benefits it provides.

Contact Brookhaven Heart

If you are thinking of beginning a HIIT program, or you have questions about exercise and your heart health, talk to our specialists. They are happy to assist you in starting a workout regimen that can help with improving your heart and quality of life. The first step is to call our office, where we are happy to schedule you for an appointment. We will discuss your symptoms, run tests, and work together with you on a health strategy to make you happier and healthier.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Brookhaven Heart. Call 631-654-3278 today! We are happy to assist you in getting your heart back in shape.