According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths annually. That makes this particular condition the number one disease-related killer in the U.S. for men and women alike.
So how can someone who’s received this diagnosis lessen its effects—hopefully increasing lifespan as a result? Some studies suggest that the answer to this question may, in part, be by performing HIIT.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and involves doing short bursts of high-intensity exercises followed by small periods of rest. For example, if HIIT were performed on a treadmill, 30 seconds of all-out running might be alternated with 20 seconds of maintaining a more moderate intensity.
Because this form of exercise is so strenuous, most HIIT sessions last for 20 minutes or less. While a number of fitness enthusiasts like the shorter workouts, it appears that HIIT offers cardiovascular benefits too, specifically for individuals who’ve received a heart disease diagnosis.
For example, one study conducted by the K.G. Jebsen – Center of Exercise in Medicine at Norwegian University of Science and Technology involved 112 individuals, all diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD). Each participated in 12 weeks of HIIT, with sessions consisting of four cycles of four-minute high-intensity treadmill walking or running alternated with three minutes of slower, more moderate-intensity levels.
Upon examining the data, researchers discovered an overall increase in participants’ VO2 max (which is the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to consume) over the course of the 12-week study, this number rising by 11.9 percent. For those that worked out harder, or at a greater intensity, their VO2 max raised even more. This suggests that the heart becomes more efficient with HIIT-type exercises, even for those suffering with a heart-related disease.
Some health experts are concerned about the safety of HIIT, especially since the sessions are so physically intense. However, researchers on this study stated that their findings “confirmed previous findings that high-intensity exercise is safe, even for patients with CHD.” Another review of literature which was published in the journal Sports Medicine found the same, concluding that “HIIT appears to be a safe and effective alternative for rehabilitation of patients with CAD [coronary artery disease] and HF [heart failure].”
Because HIIT is offered at a number of fitness centers, in addition to some home workout classes which can be accessed online, that makes this treatment remedy one that is available to most everyone who has been diagnosed with heart disease. Of course, just as with any other form of exercise, it’s still suggested that patients should always clear starting a HIIT exercise program with their primary care doctors to ensure that this type of high-intensity training is safe for them specifically.
The American College of Sports Medicine further recommends that individuals new to exercise completely should “establish a foundational level of fitness.” This means working out 3-5 days per week for 20 to 60 minutes at a time at a fairly hard intensity to ready the body for HIIT.