Does HIIT Hit the Mark for Aging?!

High Intensity Interval Training has been the subject of much research and debate over the past decade or so.  (I will abbreviate it as HIIT from now on).

I have to credit my friend Phil Campbell for bringing back the concept to modern eyes a decade or more ago with his books Ready Set Go!The Sprint 8 Protocol, and most recently How to Increase Growth Hormone Naturally– all available on Amazon.  There is even a cameo appearance by yours truly in the second book listed above.  They are great resources and good reads and if you don’t have them I’d suggest you visit Amazon or your local book seller and pick up a copy of any or all of them!

HIIT was actually originated in Hitler’s Germany in preparation for the 1936 Olympics.  It is credited to Hans Reindell a physiologist and Woldemar Gersheler a coach. While it did not stop Jesse Owens from shaming the Reich, it did get German athletes a lot of 2nd and 3rd place finishes.

The history got lost in post war translation and it simply became known as “wind sprints” when I was back in junior high. WE hated it then because it made you feel, well, like you’d want to vomit. Still there is no denying it was the fastest and most effective way to build “wind” or aerobic capacity.

Phil made it popular again and like most neo pioneers has never gotten much credit for it.  Since Phil reintroduced it, it has made the rounds for all kinds of things.  The first bash was back in the late 90’s when it was the darling of all trainers for the sole purpose of weight loss.  All kinds or exorbitant amounts of calorie burn were being ascribed to it and many books and articles touted “after burn”*, the immediate metabolic consequences of HIIT, as burning hundreds and hundreds of extra calories per day.

Then reality and measurement set in and it was found that realistically you could burn about 100 extra calories on the days that you performed your HIIT intervals. People started to notice that the athletes featured in the “Get Ripped with Interval Training” Videos were all in their early 20’s and high level to begin with. Can you say “Tabata”?!

Another predictable and funny thing started to happen. Middle aged and older people desperately trying to combat Father Time with HIIT started doing it and getting injured. Hint: If you have not sprinted in 30 years get Phil’s books and learn to do it the right way- the INJURY FREE way!  In 2007 I adopted a program of deep water interval training and posted some YouTube videos on it.  Now there is a whole book on that very topic.  Go figure!

For my money that is the best way to do regular interval training although if your body can tolerate it sprinting at the track is a lot of fun.  Just remember you may be a kid at heart but if you’ve got some miles on your odometer like I do, take it easy at first.

The good news is you can use your favorite fitness device like the elliptical or mine, the Airdyne bike, to get the cardio part of the workout without the joint tendon and ligament trauma! You can also do any one of a number of HIIT circuits that have become so popular these days like Insanity, Ruthless and any number of macho titles that will challenge your man and womanhood.

Injury potential aside, a new study at the prestigious Mayo clinic is the latest to look at HIIT in an area where it’s found a new home- combatting aging.

In addition to increasing the capacity of the heart, and the growth of muscle (can you say Increase Growth Hormone like Phil teaches us?!) and insulin sensitivity, HIIT delivers results in a relatively fast way.  In as little as 6 workouts that total less than 30 minutes of exercise and rest you will begin to feel the effects as your formerly difficult workouts get easier.

From the anti-aging standpoint, HIIT seems to address the dual problems of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) and dynopenia (loss of strength) by increasing the number of mitochondria in your muscle cells.

Recall I have called mitochondria the “cellular powerhouses” a term that has now become wide spread. They basically act like a carburetor or fuel injector and take oxygen and fuel (in this case fat) and burn it to make energy for movement and all kinds of other vital things!

Increasing mitochondrial density is definitely a reversal of the aging trend because as we get older we tend to lose more and more mitochondria.

Now for the real anti-aging question!

What does HIIT do to telomeres?

Answer: no one knows yet.  I am certain some genius researcher will either read this blog or decide on their own that it is time to take this ever-popular exercise form and subject it to telomere testing.  I wish it could be me but thanks to the events of the past year my research has ground to a halt. But rest assured I’ll be back and maybe I will get to have a crack at that very question!!!

In the meantime known this.  If you want to lengthen the biologic time clocks of your cells also known as telomeres, turning on telomerase  remains the only way to do that. All of the other modalities simply slow the loss.

Do some, do all but do SOMETHING to help keep your telomeres Young.




The one and only original DR Dave!



*The wild claims for “afterburn” originated in a single study out of Australia that got quoted and used as a citation by over zealous trainers the world over.  That study has since been refuted several times and it points out the dangers of using only one study to reinforce your point of view. Frankly I see this a lot among people who write books and have no scientific background. The idea that it takes several studies that show repeatedly the same thing never even enters their minds.  Next time you read a book on fitness be aware of this!!! The good news is that real exercise physiologists have proven the factual aerobic and metabolic benefits of HIIT over the past decade with many different studies.

Reference: Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans” Matthew M. Robinson, Surendra Dasari, Adam R. Konopka, Matthew L. Johnson, S. Manjunatha, Raul Ruiz Esponda, Rickey E. Carter, Ian R. Lanza, K. Sreekumaran Nair DOI:


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