A new approach to exercise called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can spring clean your exercise routine.

HIIT is different to the traditional exercise recommendation, which involves at least 30 minutes per day of continuous, moderate-intensity activity – such as brisk walking at the same speed – performed on most days of the week.

First and foremost, HIIT involves variety. It can be applied to your preferred activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycle riding. You then do that activity in repeating cycles of:

  1. a short burst of high-intensity exercise
  2. followed by a brief rest or low-intensity exercise

How you perform HIIT can vary greatly – the high-intensity burst can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Cycles can be repeated 3 to 5 times. So, for example, you can walk fast for 2 minutes, followed by walking slowly for 3 minutes, which equals a 5-minute cycle. Repeat this cycle 4 times; that equals 20 minutes.

That’s less time than the traditional daily dose of 30 minutes. As a result, HIIT not only jazzes up your exercise routine, it also saves you time.

Exercise research

Traditional, continuous exercise is definitely good for your health. A large amount of research has found benefits including decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes (excess sugar in the blood) and premature death.

Less research has been done on HIIT. But so far, the results are impressive. Compared to continuous exercise, the variety and time-saving of HIIT increases your chances of sticking with doing regular exercise.

HIIT may also be better for:

  • Burning calories, particularly fat
  • Reducing weight
  • Improving fitness
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Regulating blood sugar in diabetes

The above benefits are consistent with research that’s found people who get up and walk for two minutes every hour can reverse the negative health effects of sitting all day.

What to do

Until more research is done, it’s too early to replace the traditional recommendation for continuous exercise with HIIT. But in the meanwhile, HIIT can be added as part of your overall exercise program.

If you’re unfit or have a health problem such as heart disease, first get a medical clearance from your GP. If you’re ready to do HIIT, then an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist can help you work out a specific HIIT exercise program.

More information

  • Speak to your GP or an exercise physiologist
  • Visit www.acsm.org