Regular physical activity has numerous health benefits, but different types of exercise may have different benefits for older adults. Researchers investigated the potential for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) among nursing home residents.
Researchers recruited 46 residents from a nursing home to participate in an eight-week physical activity intervention. All participants were women, with an average age of 80 and no mobility impairments, although participants had been diagnosed with various chronic conditions or Alzheimer’s disease. The women first completed a six-minute walking test, then were randomly assigned to one of three intervention groups: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), moderate-intensity interval training (MIIT), or moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). Participants attended 40-minute treadmill exercise sessions twice weekly for eight weeks, followed by a four-week detraining period of no exercise. Interval training consisted of brief bouts of high- or moderate-intensity exercise interspersed with brief recovery periods. The MICT group exercised at a steady, moderate-intensity pace for the full session.
After the eight-week intervention, all groups showed a reduction in body fat, improved mobility, and improved resting heart rate. Only the HIIT group showed improvements in the walking test and blood pressure, but where this group really outperformed the others was in sustaining these improvements into the detraining period. The other two groups returned to baseline by two weeks on these measures and even showed higher body fat and worse mobility and walking test performance after four weeks of detraining.
HIIT has gained attention in recent years for its potential health benefits over traditional continuous exercise and potentially shorter daily time commitment. Researchers have begun to explore the safety and effectiveness of HIIT for older adults. This study both supports its benefits and distinguishes the results of interval training from high-intensity training. Shorter bursts of higher intensity exercise appeared more beneficial for these women in their 70s and 80s than moderate interval or continuous exercise. Continued research on this topic will be needed, but HIIT may soon have a place in nursing homes rather than just at the local fitness club.
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Coswig VS, Barbalho M, Raiol R, Del Vecchio FB, Ramirez-Campillo R, and Gentil P. Effects of high vs moderate‑intensity intermittent training on functionality, resting heart rate and blood pressure of elderly women. Journal of Translational Medicine (2020); 18(88).