HIIT Could Help Those With Heart Failure

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High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an exercise program designed to maximize a person’s activity in short periods of time, jacking up their heart rate, breathing rate, and calorie burning capacity to extremely high levels–and as it turns out, it could be ideal for patients with congestive heart failure.

It might be hard to imagine someone with a failing heart participating in exercise in fast-paced bursts, but there is research to suggest HIIT has cardiovascular benefits that are too stark to ignore.

A 2015 study published in “Clinical Trials and Regulatory Science in Cardiology” compared the effects of HIIT and moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) in patients with chronic heart failure. The study concluded that both training methods improved quality of life equally, and while MICT correlated more with weight loss, HIIT patients showed a slightly higher improvement in peak oxygen consumption.

Congestive heart failure is defined as a chronic condition in which the patient’s heart doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should, mainly due to fluid build-up around the organ. The higher output places greater stress on the pumping power of the heart muscles, and can be caused by a number of health conditions, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, and diabetes.

According to the CDC, 5.1 million Americans suffer from heart failure, and about half of people who develop chronic heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.

Another study exploring exertion perception found that subjects who participated in HIIT workouts believed they were exerting less energy due to the shorter intervals of exercise. The study’s participants were overweight, sedentary adults–a demographic that can be easily associated with chronic heart failure.

Currently, there’s no scientific connection between exercise interval length and predicting a person’s future exercise behavior. The implications of such a correlation would be enormous, because it would address the number one issue surrounding physical activity in sedentary adults: getting them to do it in the first place.

While HIIT appears to contain a number of health benefits, the idea of making exercise more appealing to active individuals is also a major factor in its appeal. Louie Urbano, co-owner and trainer at NJ HIIT in North Arlington, New Jersey, thinks that people responding to shorter workout times is common sense, even given their higher intensity.

“I mean, think about it. Would you rather run on a treadmill for an hour, or do a 10-minute, high-intensity workout for the same type of results?” Urbano tells BTRtoday.

According to a brochure published by the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT exercise intervals are designed to be performed at 80 to 95 percent of a person’s maximal heart rate, and even the recovery periods are performed at 40 to 50 percent of maximal heart rate.

“After HIIT training, your body will be burning calories anywhere from 24 to 72 hours post-workout,” Urbano says.

While the ACSM maintains the importance for a person to “establish a foundational level of fitness” before immersing themselves in HIIT, Urbano explains that the training is extremely malleable depending on experience level.

“It all depends on the format, and that’s where you can make adjustments,” he says. “For example, if a typical workout involves 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, for someone who’s a beginner they would do the opposite–15 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.”

Although there’s certainly more research to be conducted, if HIIT continues to prove its ability to improve cardiovascular health while engaging its participants, it may well turn out that one way to help prevent the heart from failing is by exercising its limits.

BTR does not encourage or condone HIIT. All exercise regimes should be decided with the help of your doctor.