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The pursuit of anti-aging has been sought throughout history from the legend of Ponce De Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth, to present times where Silicon Valley investors pour millions into finding longevity drugs. Research has shown that exercise offers anti-aging benefits and a new study shows that the longevity effects are even more pronounced when you replace low intensity exercise with more intense training. Incorporating HIIT to your program can provide a potential anti-aging boost because of the cellular and hormonal changes this training style can induce. While doing a few sprints a week won’t guarantee you immortality, HIIT can go a long way toward helping maintain fast twitch muscle fibers, reduce body fat levels, and promote beneficial cellular and hormonal function.
Studies show that as part of the aging process muscles will atrophy and this primarily affects Type II muscle fibers. Type II fibers are sometimes called “fast twitch” fibers, they’re known for producing rapid amounts of force. This loss of muscle mass is thought to contribute to the high rates of falls among elder. In addition, a decrease in the production of hormones like testosterone and HGH is common with aging. These hormones play significant roles in influencing our body composition, sex drive, and general well being. Cognitive decline is another side effect commonly associated with aging. Finally, decreased mitochondrial biogenesis and AMPK inactivity is something that has been linked to aging and aging-related side effects like insulin resistance and insufficient fatty acid oxidation. Fortunately, there are multitudes of studies showing that various styles of HIIT training can positively affect these biomarkers associated with aging.
A study was conducted on subjects, over the course of six weeks, who trained 2-3 days per week doing 30-second all-out sprints on a cycle ergometer with a resistance of 75 g kg-1 body weight with 15- to 20-minute rest periods between sprints. At the end of the study through muscle biopsies it was revealed that the number of Type II fibers had increased. This suggests that HIIT-style training can positively induce changes to promote the Type II fibers that are most susceptible to aging.
Another study assessing the effects of anaerobic sprints in healthy subjects on cognition found that sprinting increased BDNF and catecholamine levels. In addition, vocabulary learning was 20% faster after having performed intense exercise. BDNF is related to short-term learning success and catecholamines like dopamine and epinephrine are associated with intermediate and long-term memory retention.
A study on the hormonal response to sprinting revealed that anaerobic exercise produced a significant anabolic response. The exercise consisted of 4 x 250 m runs on a treadmill with a constant intensity of 80% max speed with three minutes of rest between runs. The exercise resulted in significant increases in levels of HGH, testosterone, and testosterone-to-cortisol ratio.
Another study also on men found that bursts of 4 x 30s all-out maximal intensity cycling with four mins. of rest resulted in activation of p38 MAPK and AMPK in the cytosol. Nuclear PGC-1a protein increased after exercise and mitochondrial protein content and enzyme activity increased after 24 hours of recovery. Acute bout low volume HIIT activates mitochondrial biogenesis through mechanism involving increased nuclear abundance of PGC-1a. As mentioned earlier mitochondrial degradation usually as a result of impaired AMPK activation and PGC-1a pathways has been linked to the aging process particularly to oxidation and cell death. This study indicates that HIIT can positively affect mitochondria production.
If you want to try incorporating HIIT into your routine to start getting some of these benefits you can try following this workout using one of these training modalities.
Photo courtesy of Jaysen Turner
The workout will consist of a five-minute warmup done at 60% intensity followed by 4 sets of 30-second all-out HIIT work with three minutes of rest in between sets. Progressively increase the intensity of your intervals each week. Because this style of training is very intense you’ll want to limit training volume down to no more than two sessions per week.
HIIT x 4 @ 80% intensity
HIIT x 4 @ 85% intensity
HIIT x 4 @ 90% intensity
HIIT x 4 @ 95% intensity
HIIT x 4 @ 100% intensity