This week, New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds published an essay on the evolution of a “minimalist” exercise. She wrote that in the past few years, research has shown that people can get the same health benefits as up to four minutes of exercise endurance training.
High Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT) is a type of exercise that involves alternating cycles of high-intensity and low-intensity activity gaining a global reputation as a way to adapt quickly and with scientific support. Some media claim that the development of HIIT is a godsend for those on a busy schedule. The idea is that there is no good reason to quit exercising for a few minutes.
But what is unclear now is how the development of HIIT has changed the way we exercise in a broad sense. Is ultra-efficient exercise only promoting exercise as a means of achieving it?
How is this going?
Several studies have found that intermittent (especially HIIT) and endurance training can produce similar muscle accommodation and help to reduce aortic stiffness and increase insulin sensitivity. In other words, both exercises can help prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. That seems good news for millions of people who can not find time to work on a regular basis. British surveys show that the number one reason people say they do not exercise is because they do not have enough time. This excuse becomes less powerful with just three or four exercise sessions a few minutes a week.
Why is it important?
As HIIT becomes more commonplace, some emphasis in the fitness industry seems to have shifted from exercise to finding the minimum we can get out of. (See the caption, “Five Ways to Reduce Exercise and Reduce Exercise.”) Although rejoicing in these sports-physiology insights, it is easy to produce the impression that exercise alone is not exciting or pleasurable. The time-saving aspect of HIIT has shifted our attention to projects that have just ended, rather than trying to make sporting activities part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Focusing on how HIIT reduces the time we spend at the gym can mask the fact that we may really like to do intervals. Recent research has found that some people really like HIIT rather than “traditional” endurance training (although it is unclear why). While adhering to daily exercise, this enjoyment is a key factor in predicting whether people are truly on track. People may see intermittent training in the same way as any other type of training that they see, expecting physical exertion rather than worrying about their duties.
Of course, many fitness professionals stress the importance of finding a routine for the individual – our favorite exercise routine, which makes us physically and mentally fit and we will stick to the long term. For some, this may mean HIIT; for others, this could mean running an ultra-marathon. Time intervals are efficient, of course, but their time-saving features are not always an excuse to cure all the excuse-killers we often see in the headlines.
If intermittent training can be made easier by getting exercise, then in our book it works. But it is important to remember that exercise is not necessarily the means to an end. In fact, many people insist on fitness for their health because we challenge the mental and physical processes (sometimes long and hard times) on the sidewalk instead of just the skinny jeans.
This is why trainers and the media should be careful not to over-emphasize HIIT’s “as soon as possible” aspects when promoting the benefits of time intervals. The point is that people like to exercise, and for many, the interval is not fast, and they lead to a feeling of satisfaction that has allowed us to pull on our sneakers for the rest of our lives.