Challenging Yourself With High-Intensity Interval Training

No time to exercise? With a HIIT workout routine, you can get the health benefits of a full-fledged workout in less time.

You already know that regular exercise is good for your overall health and wellness — but it can sometimes be hard to fit in workouts during busy periods, especially when you've got other personal and professional priorities.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has you covered. With an emphasis on periods of moderate activity interrupted by short "bursts" of heart-pumping cardio work, HIIT workouts are designed to help you make the most of whatever time you have.

The science backs it up. Over the past several years, studies have linked HIIT exercises with ample health benefits, according to findings published by AARP. The advantages range from improving your heart health to lowering blood pressure, building muscle and even protecting against mental decline.

Research completed by Plos One also indicates that people find HIIT workouts more fun than regular exercise, when compared to moderate intensity continuous exercise, even if they're harder to do. Here's what you need to know about this workout as well as how to incorporate it into your regular routine.

Getting Started

First, you should consult with a medical professional before starting any new workout regimen.

HIIT workouts can be completed by those who are overweight as well as individuals who have heart disease or type 2 diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic. A simple 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise a few days a week can make a real difference when people are just starting out. But make sure to go at your own pace, and let your physician know you plan to do a HIIT workout.

Finding the best HIIT workout for you requires some experimentation. Here's an outline for a quick, high-intensity exercise routine you can easily fit in while taking the dog for a walk, running errands or going on an evening stroll through the neighborhood:

  • Start with an easy three-minute warmup such as walking.
  • For 20 seconds, do a brisk walk that makes you too out-of-breath to talk.
  • Return to your warmup pace for one or two minutes.
  • For 20 seconds, do another brisk walk.
  • Take a break for two minutes.
  • For 20 seconds, do a final brisk walk.
  • Return to your warmup pace for another two minutes.

Routinely completing this workout can help you build stamina and endurance over time. As you get more confident and comfortable, you can apply a similar interval structure to different HIIT exercises such as jogging, dancing, swimming or riding a bike.

Why HIIT is Beneficial

No matter how you mix up the workouts, brevity will always be one of the biggest benefits. For example, the AARP research study compared women who exercised 20 minutes a day with HIIT versus those who completed 40 minutes of traditional exercise per day. Ultimately, the participants who used HIIT exercises lost belly fat while those who exercised traditionally (for twice as long) didn't.

Your success with HIIT workouts may be due to how your body uses energy during and after physical activity. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, high-intensity exercises cause the body to use more energy to recover after the workout, which means HIIT activities tend to burn up to 15 percent more calories than regular exercise.

Pacing and Mixing Things Up

While HIIT exercises offer a number of benefits, it's important to remember that there are some risks, too — especially if you push yourself too hard or start a new exercise program without first checking with your doctor. It's crucial that you find a pace that works for you that is challenging but doesn't overdo it.

And don't forget to add in other types of exercise, too! Experts suggest doing HIIT once or twice a week at most while mixing in less-intense activities on other days, according to Mayo Clinic. That gives your body time to recover and heal and gives you flexibility in your routine so exercise will be fun and fulfilling.