You already know HIIT training is a fast and effective way to work out. No argument about that! No longer are you relegated to spending hours each week doing mind-numbing moderate-intensity cardio. No wonder high-intensity interval training topped the list of fitness trends for 2014. No doubt it’ll be popular in 2015 too. Now a new study shows HIIT training has a benefit that goes beyond burning body fat – it may help to reduce inflammation.
High-Intensity Interval Training: A Way to Reduce Inflammation?
A number of experts believe low-grade, whole body inflammation is the driving force behind a number of chronic diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Low-grade inflammation is distinct from the inflammation you experience after a cut or injury in that it doesn’t cause obvious symptoms like redness, heat, and pain. Instead, it smolders inside tissues and blood vessels and slowly damages them. One source of chronic inflammation is oxidative stress, a type of cell and tissue damage related to a poor diet, exposure to pollutants and toxins and an overall unhealthy lifestyle.
With chronic inflammation being a source of so many health problems, finding ways to control it is essential for long-term health. Researchers at Yale University recently found that high-intensity exercise may be just what the doctor ordered for taming whole body inflammation. In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, Yale researchers discussed their findings. Using immune cells from mice and humans, researchers made an interesting discovery. A compound produced in response to high-intensity exercise called B-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) blocks another protein called NLRP3 that directly fuels inflammation.
What is B-hydroxybutyrate? It’s a ketone body, a chemical released in response to a very low-carb diet and fasting. Other studies suggest that ketogenic diets, a type of very low-carb, high-fat diet, may slow down the course of some conditions, especially diseases that affect the nervous system like seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. One way it seems to offer its benefits is by reducing oxidative stress, a factor that contributes to inflammation.
Of course, it’s not easy to stick to a very low-carb diet, and if you’re trying to build muscle and strength, you don’t want to fast on a frequent basis or greatly reduce your carb intake. In a true ketogenic diet, you’re eating as much as 80% fat. That’s pretty extreme! Plus, you need muscle glycogen to fuel your workouts. High-intensity exercise is a way to get some of the benefits of a ketogenic diet without adopting an extreme diet. You can’t argue with that!
Other Benefits of HIIT Training
As if reducing inflammation isn’t enough, high-intensity interval training offers other health and fitness benefits. Who doesn’t fancy the idea of burning calories at a higher rate even after a workout is over? That’s the beauty of HIIT training. You get the benefits of the HIIT after-burn, where your body expends extra energy for hours after your workout is over to help restore homeostasis. In addition, because high-intensity interval workouts are short, you don’t get sustained release of cortisol that could sabotage your muscle gains.
According to some studies, HIIT training is more effective for fat loss than moderate-intensity exercise, despite being shorter in duration. Plus, HIIT training is an effective aerobic AND anaerobic workout, whereas moderate-intensity cardio specifically targets aerobic energy pathways. High-intensity exercise up-regulates enzymes that facilitate fat breakdown – that means more fat loss for you. HIIT training may also be superior to moderate-intensity cardio for belly fat loss. High-intensity training effectively targets visceral abdominal fat, deep abdominal fat that’s closely tied to inflammation and health problems.
As mentioned, intense exercise seems to have anti-inflammatory effects. As such, it may lower the risk for type 2 diabetes in more ways than one. Plus, research shows high-intensity exercise improves insulin sensitivity, another bonus for diabetes prevention and for metabolic health.
Who doesn’t love a workout that’s short and sweet? HIIT training is time expedient and never boring since workout intensity varies at pre-set intervals. You can change the work to rest interval ratios to specifically target your aerobic or anaerobic energy systems. Short work intervals and long rest intervals most effectively target anaerobic systems, assuming you work as hard as possible during the active intervals. Long work intervals and shorter rest intervals target your aerobic energy system to a greater degree.
Is HIIT training a good cardiovascular workout? Absolutely. In fact, research shows vigorous exercise is more effective for boosting aerobic capacity and cardiovascular fitness than moderate-intensity workouts.
There are so many ways to incorporate HIIT training into a workout with a minimum of equipment. In general, most people find high-intensity exercise to be more challenging, yet more enjoyable, than steady-state cardio. So, don’t forget about the fun factor! That’s what helps you stay motivated.
The Bottom Line?
Add inflammation reducer to the list of health benefits that HIIT training offers. If you haven’t challenged yourself with a high-intensity interval workout yet – what are you waiting for? It’s a good way to shock your body when you’ve reached and another way to add some “fire” to your workouts.
Enjoy HIIT training, but don’t do it every day. Vigorous workouts place more stress on your body, meaning it needs more time to recover between sessions. You can enjoy the benefits by doing as few as two high-intensity workouts weekly. So, get ready to get your heart pumping and burn some fat!
Science Daily. “Anti-inflammatory mechanism of dieting and fasting revealed” February 16, 2015.
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JAMA. 2003;290:1323-1330, 1377-1379.
Medscape Family Medicine. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition”
Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. Volume 23, Issue 11, November 2013, Pages 1037-1042.
J Cardiopulm Rehabil Prev. 2010 Jan-Feb;30(1):2-11. doi: 10.1097/HCR.0b013e3181c56b89.
Circulation. 2003; 107: e2-e5 doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D.
“Vigorous Versus Moderate-Intensity Exercise” Len Kravitz, Ph.D. (2006)
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