One of the goals that a lot of people have when it comes to exercise and working out, is to try and turn back the hands of time and keep themselves looking young. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that one of the most common questions we get regarding exercise and fitness is:
“What is the best exercise for anti-aging?”
And there is just one answer to that question: HIIT.
So, what exactly is HIIT and why is it such a great tool for those that want to stay looking young?
You can work out a little of what HIIT might be by breaking down the name. HIIT stands for ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ and the two key elements here are ‘high intensity’ and ‘interval’. This form of training literally involves intervals of high intensity training, followed by intervals of relatively low output training.
For example then, that might mean that you would alternate between periods of sprinting and periods of light jogging or walking. Of course, most of us can only sprint for up to a minute before it becomes too tiring and even highly trained athletes can’t go for much longer. Alternating then allows the athlete to spend some time in an anaerobic (sprinting) state, just as weight lifters will rest between sets to help themselves lift heavily again straight afterward.
But we’re looking to answer the question of what is the best exercise for anti-aging. So why is it about being in an anaerobic state that is so useful?
Being in an anearobic state means that your body is in the glycogen-lactic acid energy system, or the ATP-CP energy system. In other words, it is going too fast to utilize energy stored as fat around the body (which is what happens during aerobic exercise) and as such, it has to rely on energy that is readily available within the muscle cells.
There are two types of energy that are so readily available: ATP (adenosine triphosphate – the purest form of energy) and glycogen. The body will start by using up the ATP which lasts for a few seconds and then move on to the glycogen lactic acid system. But this creates by-products that eventually cause the muscles to burn and leave you feeling sick. It’s at this point – at the lactic threshold – that we have to slow back down.
There are lots of benefits to this: this form of training creates a massive calorie deficit for example that the body needs to burn fat to replenish throughout the rest of the day. It’s also great for increasing our ability to sprint and doesn’t cannibalize muscle in the same way that other forms of cardio exercise do.
But what’s most important, is that HIIT forces the mitochondria to work harder. Mitochondria are tiny energy factories that live inside the cells and that help us to make use of ATP. The more mitochondria you have, the more efficiently you’ll be able to use energy and the more ‘full of beans’ you will feel.
In fact, research shows us that older individuals have considerably fewer mitochondria in their cells as compared with young children. This is a big clue as to why children seem to have endless energy and are constantly running around in circles, whereas older adults will struggle just to get out of bed in the morning!
HIIT is one of the best tools for making yourself feel younger.
But it goes deeper than this too. That’s because there is a link between mitochondria and the health of the cells.
While we need to burn through energy in order to fuel our everyday activities, it is important to note that this does create by-products as well – including free radicals. In other words, the very process that allows us to move and think and stay active is also contributing to our aging by creating harmful agents in our system that can damage our cells and cause wrinkles. Worse, this can lead to dangerous cellular mutations that lead to severe diseases.
It seems that mitochondria may be able to prevent this and prevent general decline with age by making our bodies more energy efficient.
Oh, and guess what? Because we have mitochondria in our brain cells too, this kind of exercise may even be able to raise our IQ and prevent some symptoms of age related cognitive decline. This really is a miraculous form of exercise!
That’s the science and that’s why HIIT has always been considered a good fit for those wanting to get into shape and turn back the hands of time.
But more recently, research has shed extra light on this topic and suggested that it might be even better when it comes to staying young. The Mayo Clinic conducted a study that aimed to look for forms of exercise and their benefits for participants of different ages over the course of three months. They collected data from randomized groups and found that HIIT was effectively able to increase insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial function, lean body mass, VO2 max, bone density and even protein content in muscles. These effects were seen to be significantly stronger in the HIIT group versus the other two control groups that were performing resistance training and concurrent training (combined resistance and cardio).
In other words then, HIIT doesn’t just make us feel more energetic, look more youthful and be less likely to develop illnesses: it also helps to turn back many of the physical changes that we associate with aging. Stronger bones means less chance of falling and breaking a hip, a better VO2 max means less wheezing and struggling up the stairs and greater muscle mass means more strength and vitality into old age.
If you have any interest in staying youthful, then it’s time to drop those anti-wrinkle creams and get yourself in the gym. Protocol: HIIT!