If you’re carrying a little extra weight, you probably already know that exercise will be important to achieving your weight loss goals. You may also feel overwhelmed by the many exercise fads and trendy workouts that promise to transform your body. And really, how could you possibly fit one more thing – exercise – into your already packed daily routine?
The number of people who are overweight or obese has reached epidemic proportions (1). In 2014, 20.2% of Canadian adults – or 5.3 million people – were considered obese, while 40% of men and 27.5% of women were overweight (2). Being overweight or obese is not just about how you look. In addition to impacting daily life through symptoms like fatigue, joint pain and breathing difficulties (1), being overweight or obese puts you at increased risk of developing health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer (1;2;3).
So, what can people who are overweight or obese do to improve their health? The short answer is still…exercise! Unfortunately, the number one reason people say they can’t stick to an exercise regimen is that they’re just too busy (4). But what if the benefits of exercise could be achieved in less time (5)?
Enter high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short. Simply put, HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise interspersed with longer periods of slower activity as recovery time (6). Some examples of HIIT include rotating between running and walking, sprint cycling and rest, or swimming and rest (5).
But is HIIT the miracle that we have been looking for?
What the research tells us
Research shows that, in overweight and obese adults, both short-term and long-term HIIT can effectively decrease risk factors for chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. After less than 12 weeks of HIIT, people who were overweight or obese saw improvements in their waist size, diastolic blood pressure and blood sugar. While blood sugar reductions were not sustained, people who practiced HIIT over the longer term (for 12 or more weeks) saw additional improvements in systolic blood pressure, percent body fat, and resting heart rate. Maximum benefit was achieved when HIIT was performed at least three times a week for 12 or more weeks (5).
If you feel pressed for time, HIIT may offer an effective exercise alternative for improving health and reducing risk factors for chronic diseases in adults who are overweight or obese.