older woman smiles while on exercise machine

Live Vibrantly - May 17, 2021

Get Fit with HIIT!

By Carson Fralin

This May, we join with the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services to encourage you to Move Your Way during National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Every day at Goodwin House, we celebrate and promote the benefits of physical fitness and sports participation. With months such as this one, we have more reason to blog about it!

Regularly engaging in physical activity is one of the most important things that older adults can do for their health. The benefits of physical activity for older adults are numerous. It can protect against illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, improve mental health and help you maintain overall physical function. We’ve shared before that activity such as strength training can reduce your risk of stroke.

Today, I want to share another method of exercise that has proven beneficial for older adults. This one may surprise you – High Intensity Interval Training.

What is HIIT?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) builds on the concept of interval training. When you do interval training, you divide your workout into smaller phases or stages and change certain exercise variables, such as duration or intensity, with each phase or stage.

For example, let’s say you decide to ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes. With interval training, you would break the 20 minutes into five-minute intervals, and every five minutes you would alternate exercising at a higher or lower intensity. This maps it out for us in a visual way:

HIIT builds on this concept and emphasizes short intervals of high-intensity activity in between stages of low-intensity activity. You can grade the intensity via subject exertion scales or by using a percentage of your maximum heart rate or, even more effectively, use your heart rate reserve.

How does HIIT compare to long-distance aerobic exercise?

The benefits of HIIT compared to long-duration, low-intensity aerobic exercise are well known: you can expect to get the same if not more benefits by using HIIT. HIIT can be performed in a shorter span of time while raising your heart rate and stimulating a substantial production of metabolites within the muscle and blood that benefit your cardiovascular system. Fitness professionals often advocate HIIT because their clients find it easier to keep doing it consistently – it takes a shorter amount of time, there is less burnout, and there are lots of ways to change and alter the program. Adherence is key to any program!

It is important at every stage of life to challenge your cardiovascular system. HIIT not only works as an efficacious aerobic training method, it can also help you reach your recommended amount of exercise supported from organizations such as the CDC, American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine.

As always, it is important to consult your medical healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program. Ask your primary care physician if HIIT could be a good activity to add to your exercise regime.


Carson Fralin is Recreation Coordinator at Goodwin House Alexandria. Carson is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach having worked with populations all across the spectrum with more than eight years of experience working with older adults. Having received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise physiology at Virginia Commonwealth University, he has used his education and experience to apply concepts of functional training to help others attain the highest degree of fitness for both performance and attaining a better quality of life.

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