Today we will talk about HIIT for seniors. HIIT or high intensity interval training is a popular training method these days, but is it safe for seniors? Read on to find out!
If you have read any health magazines or seen pretty much anything physical training related, you have likely heard about high intensity interval training. Or you might have heard or seen the term HIIT but never cared to find out what it actually means.
Chances are that someone has recommended it to you recently, since you are reading this. Unless you are a regular reader of course and didn’t end up here through the search engines. No matter how you end up here, if you are interested in HIIT, you are going to learn all about it!
HIIT has been on the lips of the whole health and fitness world for at least a decade now and it doesn’t seem to be going down in popularity. Let’s see what’s all the fuzz!
What is HIIT
As we already established, HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. It’s not a specific exercise, but more of a method of doing exercise.
HIIT revolves around doing several high intensity, or maximum intensity, bouts of cardio exercise with lower intensity or rest in between sets.
The classic example of HIIT is sprint training. You do a 100 yard dash as fast as you can, you walk back to the starting line and do another dash. You then repeat this 5 to 10 times.
The idea behind HIIT is that you will achieve a very high heart rate and metabolic stress in a very short time. Essentially you can do the same amount of work in 15 minutes as you would in an hour with typical low intensity steady state cardio.
There are of course sports that utilize HIIT as a sport specific training to improve the sport specific skills. This naturally includes short distance sprinting but also sports like football, boxing, rowing, track and field and ice hockey.
All these sports include a component of very high intensity, short time span exercise. Essentially HIIT. Any sport that requires speed, high power output and anaerobic stamina uses some for of high intensity interval training.
Why is HIIT so popular?
So why is HIIT so popular among regular people looking to stay fit? The main reason has to be the time efficiency. It’s true that you can achieve the same amount of work in a much shorter time frame with HIIT than with regular aerobic exercise.
But you have to understand that for HIIT to be effective, the high intensity intervals need to be truly high intensity. This means pushing yourself as hard as you can go, and then some.
If you slack doing HIIT by resting the low intensity intervals and then doing only moderate intensity intervals for short periods, you will not get the real benefits of HIIT.
The other reason HIIT is so popular is that offers several beneficial metabolic effects, especially to younger people.
HIIT has been shown to increase HGH or human growth hormone, increase cardiovascular health, increase endurance, lower insulin resistance, increase fat oxidation (burn fat) and even enhance cognitive abilities and memory.
Even though HIIT seems to have an astonishing amount of positive effects that would seem perfect for older people, it’s not the magic bullet many like to imply it is. In reality most exercise has the same effects, it’s just a matter of preference and risk-reward ratio.
It’s true HIIT might be slightly more effective to providing some of the benefits than traditional cardio, but in reality it doesn’t matter how you exercise. The only thing that matter is that you do exercise routinely.
With HIIT there are definitely also risks involved for seniors.
Is HIIT safe for seniors?
Our opinion is that HIIT is not the best option for seniors. It can be a very good tool for senior athletes who have a strong base in conditioning. For anyone else it’s VERY easy to push yourself too hard in the beginning.
The fact is that HIIT is very demanding on your body and especially on your heart. If you have not done any kind of high intensity exercise in years, HIIT can be potentially dangerous.
As we get older our risk for having some form of heart disease or things like arrhythmia increases. Even if you we’re able high intensity exercise just fine when younger, you should always be careful with high intensity exercise in older age.
It’s always wise to start light and progress slowly, so your whole body has time to adapt. We want to be clear that we don’t encourage avoiding exercise because of frailty of old age, you are stronger than you think! Just be smart and don’t take unnecessary risks and always consult your physician when starting a new exercise routine.
That being said, HIIT generally increases you heart rate much closer to the absolute upper limit than lower intensity cardio or strength training. Our suggestion is to do those two instead. They will provide all the benefits of HIIT with less risk.
Strength training is superior to HIIT in building strength and muscle mass. Low intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, is superior to your cardiovascular health because our blood vessels prefer prolonged, slightly increased heart rate instead of the high stress of maximal heart rate in HIIT.
HIIT can also be very demanding on your recovery capacity in older age. A bout of serious high intensity exercise can leave you exhausted and fatigued for days. This can prevent you from doing other exercises and chores and lower your motivation to exercise.
If you are a seasoned athlete looking to bring your conditioning up a notch, HIIT might just be thing for you though. Your body has likely adapted to the rigors of high intensity training and you know how to gauge your recovery. Then again, a seasoned athlete won’t likely be reading about HIIT on the Internet.
The last risk with HIIT is muscle, tendon and joint injuries. The high speed, force and intensity exposes you to a greater risk of injury due to sprains, impact on the joint and even stumbling and falling in case of losing balance under exhaustion.
So unless you are a seasoned athlete, you need to seriously think if you want to try HIIT. If you do, we want to emphasize once again the importance of taking it lightly and listening to your body.
HIIT routine for seniors
If you wan to try HIIT in spite of the health risks, we recommend using a stationary bike. Preferably one that is equipped with a heart rate monitor or using an external heart rate monitor. There are several benefits for this.
Firstly using a bike minimizes the risk of stumbling. It’s easy to mis step, lose balance or even become light-headed under sudden intense exercise. While you need to do your best to minimize these risks by taking it easy first, using a bike pretty much prevents you from falling unless you completely faint (which we clearly don’t want either).
Secondly it’s much easier to control the low and high intensity intervals on a high quality stationary bike and most of them have a program for interval training.
Thirdly it’s important to keep an eye on your heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is individual but if your heart rate start to jump irrationally and you are feeling tightness in your chest or any pain, this is a sure way to know you have to stop right away and alert help.
Your heart rate should also drop during the low intensity intervals. Let’s say your heart rate is 140 or 150 during a high intensity interval, it should drop at least 20 bpms during the low intensity interval and come down closer to 100 within a minute from stopping the exercise.
If your heart rate stays elevated, you have likely over done the intensity. In this case, call it a day and give your body plenty of rest for couple days and avoid any intense exercise.
We hope you enjoyed reading about HIIT for seniors and got some good ideas for your own training routine.
HIIT definitely has positive effects on health but it poses some real risks for seniors and it’s up to you to gauge if it’s worth the risk. Our recommendation is to do lower intensity cardio like walking, cycling or jogging and combine that with strength training to improve muscle mass, strength and bone strength.
These will pride all the benefits of HIIT with less risk. It’s not wise to take unnecessary risks with your health in older age because injuries become slower to heal. A moderate amount of the right kind of exercise is all that is needed to reap the benefits of exercise for living an active lifestyle in older age.
If you have any questions or comments about HIIT training, please drop a comment on the form below!
See you next time,