You’ve likely heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and may have dismissed it as a fad or just another way of rushing through your workout in our fast-paced society. This type of exercise is certainly trendy, but there’s more science backing it than you might think. Some sources suggest just 30 minutes a day could regulate cholesterol and protect your heart. Isn’t this too good to be true? What exactly is HIIT, and does it really live up to the hype?
Improving abnormal cholesterol with HIIT
If you’ve been diagnosed with abnormal cholesterol, don’t panic. And don’t run straight to prescription medication either. Remember, contrary to common knowledge, not all cholesterol is bad. In fact, it is an essential part of your body.
However, a high-sugar diet, high-stress life, and lack of movement can increase triglycerides and oxidized LDL, which contribute to cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol issues can be managed by a healthy lifestyle characterized by a good diet, quality sleep, and yes, regular exercise.
Enter HIIT to the scene…
What is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of exercise that utilizes short, intense bursts of activity with brief active rest periods. It is designed to get the heart rate up fast and maximize the time spent exercising. Because of this unique structure, you can get twice as much benefit from a 30-minute HIIT workout as from a moderate-intensity workout of the same duration.
Most HIIT consists of 30-60 seconds of high-intensity aerobic or resistance exercise, such as jumping jacks, fast cycling, jumping squats, or sprinting, followed by a movement that doesn’t put as much strain on the heart. This could include biking at a slower pace, walking, marching in place, or a static plank.
HIIT significantly increases the heart rate for one to five minutes and then brings it down during the rest phase, giving the body a chance for recovery. This cycle is repeated for as long as desired — usually 30 minutes.
Can HIIT improve cholesterol?
Any movement can undoubtedly make a positive difference in cholesterol ratios, but many studies support HIIT as the gold standard for improving abnormal cholesterol. One, in particular, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016, showed incredible results.
The study consisted of overweight women with type 2 diabetes who participated in regular HIIT training over the study period. The results were promising and showed improved HDL levels and reduced triglyceride levels by 20 percent compared to the beginning of the study.
The majority of research focuses on improving HDL, but there is some evidence to suggest that HIIT could lower dense LDL levels in obese individuals with high LDL. Animal studies have also concluded that HIIT is more effective than moderate-intensity continuous training at restoring cholesterol ratios to a healthy level.
Many HIIT programs focus on aerobic activity, but strength training can be incorporated into your routine and plays an essential role in regulating cholesterol levels. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that men who weight train have higher HDL and lower triglycerides than those who don’t.
HIIT workouts to lower cholesterol
It’s all well and good to say “do HIIT to normalize cholesterol,” but the sheer number of options and advice can be overwhelming when you are just starting your fitness journey. Do you need a gym membership? A personal trainer? How can you maximize your time spent exercising?
Read on for our guide on incorporating HIIT to normalize cholesterol and protect your heart.
Hint: You don’t need to spend a penny to start HIIT training today!
Adjust your normal workout
One of the easiest ways to transition into HIIT is to modify an activity you already do. For instance, if you go for a walk every day, add speed walking or jogging intervals. If you enjoy cycling, ramp up the intensity for a few minutes, then return to your normal pace.
A simple search for HIIT workouts on YouTube will reveal thousands of free exercises that you can do at home with little to no equipment. Many of these will utilize bodyweight, which is an excellent place to start.
Take your phone or laptop and your workout mat outside to combine the benefits of HIIT with fresh air and sunshine!
Check out gym classes
While a gym membership certainly isn’t necessary to get into HIIT, some people find they are more likely to utilize a service if they are paying for it. Many gyms have various HIIT classes, so visit your gym website to see what they offer. Most classes will include modifications if you are new to HIIT.
Remember, certain gym environments can be toxic. If you consider going to a gym, search for one with proper ventilation that uses organic cleaning products.
Note: Be sure to take it slow and listen to your body. If you are just starting to exercise regularly, take time to learn your limits and don’t push to the point of pain. This can lead to injury or deter you from working out in the future, which is the opposite of what you hope to accomplish.
Start with two 15-minute HIIT workouts a week and then slowly increase the time to 30-minutes and incorporate another day or two. Use your off days for more gentle activities such as walking, swimming, or yoga.
Any movement is better than none, and even a simple walk will benefit your body in incredible ways. Don’t be too hard on yourself and if you miss a couple of days, just jump right back into it!
Other benefits of HIIT
Weight loss – Carrying around extra weight can be incredibly hard on your body and can hamper proper heart function. Researchers have found that people who utilize HIIT burn 28.5 percent more fat than people who stick with traditional, moderately-intense continuous exercise. Losing a few extra pounds will also help reduce dangerous LDL particles for overweight people.
Muscle strength – One of the top benefits of HIIT is the variety of exercises it encompasses. When you perform ten different movements in a single workout, you can target multiple muscle groups and improve strength and endurance.
Blood pressure – High blood pressure can contribute to the hardening and thickening of the arteries, which is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and other heart conditions. Studies have shown a link between HIIT and reduced blood pressure, as exercise strengthens the heart and reduces blood vessel stiffness.
Exercise is certainly a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. However, it is just that. A part. Not the whole. Many people who spend hours each day haunting their local gym have hidden health issues masked by exercise. Life is about balance. Dedicating so much time to exercise that you fail to maintain a healthy diet is almost as bad as not exercising at all.
Eat a high-quality 100 Year Heart Diet consisting of fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to give your body the fuel it needs. You’ll notice increased energy levels and will be more motivated to maintain an exercise routine. Get sunshine each day, prioritize your mental health, reduce stress, and take care of your whole self. Start slow and do what you can but just keep moving!
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD