Looking for a quick but effective way to protect your heart health? Get up and get moving — this time-efficient exercise is both protective and healing for your heart.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., with one person dying from the condition every 34 seconds.[i] You’re probably aware that exercise is beneficial for heart health, but few realize the healing potential of certain types of exercise, namely high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Not only does working out at high intensity lead to powerful health gains, even in older adults and those with heart disease, but it does so in a fraction of the time compared to moderate- or low-intensity workouts.
HIIT Counteracts the Progression of Heart Disease
If you have coronary artery disease, engaging in HIIT may counteract atherosclerotic disease progression. In a study of 60 people, one group engaged in twice weekly HIIT sessions at 85% to 95% of peak heart rate while the other group received usual care.[ii] After six months of HIIT, VO2 peak, a measure of cardiopulmonary fitness, significantly increased in the HIIT group.
There was also a significant reduction in percent atheroma volume (PAV) and total atheroma volume (TAV) in the HIIT group, but not the control group — reductions comparable to those achieved by statin drugs in previous trials.[iii] Coronary atheroma volume refers to the amount of degeneration in artery walls due to accumulated fatty deposits and scar tissue. It’s linked with an increased risk of coronary events in people with coronary artery disease (CAD).
Among people with CAD, engaging in HIIT twice a week for six months led to a regression of atheroma volume, with researchers noting:[iv]
“Our study indicates that HIIT counteracts atherosclerotic coronary disease progression and reduces atheroma volume in residual coronary atheromatous plaques following PCI [percutaneous coronary intervention] … Our results reinforce the scientific background for recommending physical exercise as an important component of cardiac rehabilitation program.”
HIIT Improves Vascular Health
Vascular function is also critical for cardiovascular health, and HIIT is beneficial for this as well, even in people with metabolic disorders and heart disease. A systematic review and meta-analysis involving 36 studies and 1,437 participants revealed that HIIT increased flow-mediated dilation (FMD) — a measure of endothelial function — in people with cardiometabolic diseases, while moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) or no exercise did not.[v]
“We confirm that HIIT is effective for improving vascular function in individuals with metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases and has a superior effect compared to MICT, demonstrating time efficiency,” the researchers concluded.[vi] HIIT is effective for increasing FMD by 3.8%, and it increased FMD 1.59% more than MICT. This has significant implications, since a 1% increase in FMD is associated with a 13% reduction in adverse cardiovascular events.[vii]
Perhaps most exciting of all, the beneficial effects were found regardless of participants’ age or BMI and were achieved even with minimal time invested. Engaging in HIIT even for medium and short durations, including weekly total exercise times of less than 30 minutes, increased FMD.
“These results indicate that it is not necessary to engage in high volumes of HIIT to derive beneficial effects for vascular function, and further, these adaptations seem to occur rapidly once engaging in HIIT training,” the researchers noted.[viii]
It’s possible engaging in HIIT increases FMD, leading to improved vascular health, by increasing bioavailability of nitric oxide and antioxidant capacity, via anti-inflammatory effects and due to increased abundance of endothelial progenitor cells. According to the study:[ix]
“HIIT is associated with increases in anti-inflammatory cytokines and antioxidant enzymes, reductions in pro-inflammatory cytokines and oxidative enzymes, and mobilization and functionality of endothelial progenitor cells, which may enable improved endothelial function.”
HIIT for Four Weeks Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Reduced cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is associated with an increased risk of premature death. CRF often declines with age, due to reductions in mitochondrial quality and other factors. Adults who are sedentary with lower CRF are 4.5 times more likely to die prematurely than those who exercise regularly. Further, reduced CRF is a stronger risk factor for all-cause mortality than high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.[x]
It’s been demonstrated that engaging in four weeks of HIIT — without any extra equipment or a coach — leads to similar improvements to CRF in middle-aged adults as engaging in supervised HIIT. Additional research revealed that older adults also enjoy benefits from “short-term, time-efficient, equipment-free, HIIT.”[xi]
Those who engaged in four weeks of HIIT, involving five one-minute intervals of a bodyweight exercise followed by 90 seconds of recovery, had improved CRF, exercise tolerance, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol. The benefits occurred whether the HIIT was supervised in a laboratory or done unsupervised at home.
“Unsupervised HIIT may offer a novel approach to improve the physiological resilience of older adults, combating age-associated physiological decline,” the researchers explained.[xii] Even if you’re limited in time or on a tight budget, you can find an HIIT workout to fit your needs. Try one or two out from your own home and, as your fitness improves, consider progressing to more advanced sessions on your own or with a trainer.
It’s not only your heart health that will benefit. At GreenMedInfo.com, you can read about 249 diseases that exercise may benefit, from diabetes and dementia to obesity and depression. In terms of heart health, also be sure to check out our heart disease research database, which covers exercise, diet and other therapeutic actions, along with 14 natural substances that may help.
[ii] European Journal of Preventive Cardiology December 23, 2022 https://academic.oup.com/eurjpc/advance-article/doi/10.1093/eurjpc/zwac309/6958432?searchresult=1#390958094
[iii] European Journal of Preventive Cardiology December 23, 2022 https://academic.oup.com/eurjpc/advance-article/doi/10.1093/eurjpc/zwac309/6958432?searchresult=1#390958094
[iv] European Journal of Preventive Cardiology December 23, 2022 https://academic.oup.com/eurjpc/advance-article/doi/10.1093/eurjpc/zwac309/6958432?searchresult=1#390958094
[v] Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022; 9: 1046560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9713318/
[vi] Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022; 9: 1046560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9713318/
[vii] Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022; 9: 1046560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9713318/
[viii] Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022; 9: 1046560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9713318/
[ix] Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022; 9: 1046560. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9713318/
[x] BMC Geriatr. 2022; 22: 529. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9238013/
The GMI Research Group (GMIRG) is dedicated to investigating the most important health and environmental issues of the day. Special emphasis will be placed on environmental health. Our focused and deep research will explore the many ways in which the present condition of the human body directly reflects the true state of the ambient environment.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
This article is copyrighted by GreenMedInfo LLC, 2023
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