By 2021, one in five Canadians will be over the age of 65, and one in every three will be older than 55 (Statistics Canada 2017). It’s more important than ever to look at the best options for seniors who want to stay vibrant and healthy through physical activity.
Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto says that for older adults, high intensity interval training (known as HIIT) is the best way for older adults to preserve their health and vitality. Studies show that adults older than 65 who regularly performed HIIT workouts experienced a dramatic results including slowing the deterioration of muscle mass significantly.
Unsurprisingly, HIIT is one of the most effective fitness trends of 2017. It is a workout strategy where you mix short, intense bursts of effort with longer recovery periods. HIIT is more efficient than regular aerobic exercise because it improves your body’s fat and calorie burning rate.
Dr. Oh, says the benefits of briefly pushing your body harder, then letting it recover, and then pushing it again help improve cardiovascular and respiratory health, reduce fat and control glucose while building muscle mass and bone density. Working muscles hard also increases metabolism, which helps generate body heat.
But the common misperception is that HIIT is for seasoned athletes only and therefore too intense for beginners and older adults. Mo Hagan, a licensed physiotherapist and Vice President of Program Innovation and Fitness Development with GoodLife Fitness, says the reality is HIIT can benefit most people. The key is to start at lower levels and build up slowly.
Mo suggests the following 7 things you need to know about HIIT when you're getting started:
Check with your doctor
If you’re new to exercise or managing a health condition, it’s important to get the ‘all clear’ from your doctor before starting a regular exercise routine.
Build your base
Engage in a period of regular moderate intensity aerobic activity at least three times per week for about four weeks. Once you are feeling comfortable with this start to introduce intervals.
Always warm up
Do 5-10 minutes of low to moderately-intense exercise before you begin your HIIT workout. This warms up your joints and muscles (making them less susceptible to injury) and prepares your body (and your mind) for more intensity.
Choose your ‘sprint’
Sprints are the high-intensity part of your workout, but you don’t need to run. Sprints can be fast-walking, jumping jacks, rowing or fast pedaling on a stationary bike. Try starting with 1-2 minutes of your ‘sprint’, and alternate it with strength exercises.
Add some low intensity exercises in between
Build in some low intensity exercises between sprints. The best options are exercises that use multiple muscle groups. Kettle bell swings, shoulder presses, push presses, burpees, Turkish get-ups and TRX rows are all great exercises to build a routine around.
Time your intervals
It’s important to consult with a fitness expert, like a personal trainer or group fitness instructor, to build a routine that works for your abilities and goals. With HIIT workouts, it’s a good idea to start with short bursts of intensity and longer recovery periods, then build, with longer bursts of intensity and shorter recovery periods as your stamina improves.
Don’t skip the cool down. It’s important for older adults, especially those with heart conditions. Do 5-10 more minutes of moderate exercise at the end of your workout. Walking or slower cycling will bring down your heart rate, and keep your muscles and joints limber.
The greatest benefit of HIIT workouts is that they can be tailored to anyone, and changed all the time. Start with 1-2 HIIT workouts a week depending on how you feel. Once you’ve had a chance to build up your stamina, aim to do 2-3 HIIT workouts a week.
Why fitness is a key component to seniors' health and longevity
HIIT for seniors maintains muscle and slows the aging process