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High-Intensity Interval Training decreases risk factors of chronic disease in people with overweight or obesity

Batacan RB Jr, Duncan MJ, Dalbo VJ et al. Effects of high-intensity interval training on cardiometabolic health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies Br J Sports Med. 2017;51:494-503.

Review question

Does high-intensity interval training improve markers of health linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases?


Physical activity is important for maintaining and improving health. Current health guidelines recommend moderate-vigorous exercise between 75 to 150 minutes per week, but many people have difficulty finding the time to do so. Interestingly, some recent research has shown that shorter periods of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may be just as beneficial as longer periods of less intense exercise. HIIT involves alternating short bursts of high-intensity (very vigorous) exercise with low-intensity exercise or rest. This review measured whether HIIT can effectively decrease risk factors for heart disease and other chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

How the review was done

This is a review of 65 studies conducted from 2004 to 2015. Some of these studies were combined in a meta-analysis. Most studies were of low to fair quality.

  • All participants were adults, most between the ages of 18 and 35. Many of the studies only included people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, overweight or obesity.
  • Study participants were involved in HIIT exercise programs, which ranged from a single session to a year-long program of three sessions per week. Programs involved different types of exercise, such as treadmill running, swimming and cycling.
  • Researchers measured various markers of risk for chronic disease. These included VO2 max (a measure of fitness), resting heart rate, blood pressure, body weight, body mass index, body fat, waist and hip circumference, blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol and blood markers of inflammation.
  • In some studies, results were compared to control groups who did not participate in the HIIT programs.

What the researchers found

Participants in the HIIT exercise programs increased their fitness levels. In addition, after less than 12 weeks of HIIT, people with overweight or obesity saw improvements in their waist circumference, diastolic blood pressure and blood sugar. People who participated in the HIIT programs for 12 or more weeks also showed improvements in systolic blood pressure, body fat and resting heart rate. Decreases in blood sugar were not maintained after 12 weeks. More research is needed to understand if HIIT can further benefit people without overweight or obesity, beyond what was found in this review.


HIIT appears to be an effective way to decrease risk factors for chronic disease, particularly in people with overweight or obesity. HIIT is most effective when performed at least three times a week for 12 or more weeks.




Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
The lower number in a blood pressure reading. It is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Risk factors
Aspects making a condition more likely.
The higher number in a blood pressure reading. It is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.

Related Web Resources

  • Peripheral Arterial Disease and Exercise

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    Being physically active can help in the management and prevention of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). Supervised, facility-based specialized exercise programs may potentially help relieve leg pain and improve walking ability in people with PAD. Unsupervised, structured home-based exercise programs are also an option. Consult with your health care provider prior to initiating any type of exercise program.
  • Fitness: Using a Pedometer or Step Counter

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    Walking can help boost your level of physical activity. Tracking your daily step count using a pedometer or step counter allows you to identify your activity level so you can then set goals to be more active.
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    Pelvic floor muscles work to support the organs in the pelvis, such as the bladder and rectum. When these muscles are weakened—naturally through age, an injury, or some other contributing factor—it can result in urinary and fecal incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic floor exercises (i.e. Kegel exercises) can help to enhance the strength of these muscles and improve symptoms.
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