The virtues of regular exercise are well known, but even so, many people are not getting anywhere near an hour and a half of high-intensity aerobic exercise each week. This is mainly due to lack of time, perceived or real, and lack of energy.
Apart from the obvious physical benefits of high-intensity exercise, there is a growing body of research suggesting very vigorous exercise can help your brain as much as your body.
A study published in 2016 in the journal Neuroscience Letters, a group of researchers from the University of Texas investigated the effects of high-intensity exercise on a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF). BDNF is involved in brain-cell survival and repair, mood regulation, and cognitive functions such as learning and memory. Low levels of the protein have been associated with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The study found a session of high-intensity exercise was linked to both higher BDNF levels and improvements in cognitive functioning.
An earlier study, published in 2014 in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, had a group of middle-aged volunteers doing a series of mental tests before and after a high-intensity exercise session. These subjects saw their cognitive function improve. Notably, there was no such improvement after a session of low-intensity active stretching.
For Pattaya expats, the physical benefits of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, might go beyond the simple health improvements associated with normal exercise. In research published in the journal Cell Metabolism, a team of Mayo Clinic researchers suggested HIIT might help to reverse the cellular signs of aging.
As we age, our mitochondria stop functioning as well as they used to, leading to declines in energy level and exercise capacity. In the Mayo Clinic study, using groups of younger (18–30) and older (65–80) subjects, researchers measured the impact of three routines — high-intensity interval exercise, strength training, and a combined lower-intensity strength/cardiovascular program — on cell function, cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, and muscle mass.
At the end of the 12-week study period, the interval trainers showed improvements in circulation, heart function, and lung health. However, while the younger HIIT group experienced a 49 percent increase in mitochondrial capacity — a marker of the cell’s ability to produce energy —high-intensity exercise was the only routine that boosted mitochondrial function in the older group, by an incredible 69 percent.
The really great aspect to HIIT is that it’s easier to get it over with. And, no, you don’t have to give 100 percent effort: as long as you push hard (80 to 90 percent being fine), you’ll enjoy the benefits.