In yet another show of its potential role as a fountain of youth, high-intensity interval training is lauded for helping combat cellular aging in the elderly.

Older adults who performed this exercise — which combines quick bursts of vigorous workouts with period of moderate activity — demonstrated greater cellular-level changes versus those who exercised more moderately.

Interval training also offered a higher boost to the muscle’s mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of each cell that break down nutrients in order to be harnessed for energy. These “organelles” function like tiny, energy-providing batteries.

In addition, HIIT led to increased activity in more genes relating to mitochondrial function and growth of muscles.

Study Findings

The study involved 72 younger and older adults with a sedentary lifestyle. The team of Dr. K. Sreekumaran Nair assigned the participants to three exercise groups doing the following: HIIT three days a week, moderate aerobic exercise (also with exercise bike) five days a week, and strengthening exercises two days a week.

After 12 weeks, the groups exhibited positive results whether they were younger or older. Those from the third group, for instance, upped their muscle strength doing the strengthening routine alone or with aerobic exercise.

While the interval-training group showed small additional benefits in muscle gain, the experiment led to better mitochondrial function for them. This was more pronounced in the elderly participants.

HIIT Can Turn Back The Clock

In a previous study, Nair and his colleagues found that at the cellular level, study subjects in the HIIT group saw the biggest gains: the younger ones had a 49 percent hike in mitochondrial capacity, while the older ones had a more astounding 69 percent increase. Interval training also improved insulin sensitivity, which translated to a lower risk of diabetes.

Nair explained that interval training can help counteract the aging process in ways that moderate aerobic and strength exercises do not.

This, however, does not mean that older individuals should perform vigorous exercises right off the bat.

“If you’re sedentary, you should talk to your doctor before you start exercising. And then, you can start with walking, and build yourself up to a fast pace,” he said in a HealthDay report.

Supervision is key for this age group, Nair added.

According to cardiologist Dr. Chip Lavie, who wasn’t involved in the study, this research offers a peek into the benefits of various exercise forms. It could be proof of HIIT’s supremacy among different exercises, he said.

He advised those who are not readily able or motivated to exercise to find a moderate regimen, including up to 40 minutes of walking or using the elliptical machine on most days of the week.

The findings have been discussed in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The Mayo Clinic noted that the advantages of interval training include the following:

Calorie burning, since it is based on the intensity rather than actual length of exercise
Improved aerobic capacity for longer or more intense exercise as one improves his or her cardiovascular fitness
Fun and variety, where the short intervals allow for greater exercise routine variety
No special equipment necessary, since it just takes modifying one’s existing routine

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