Can All Seniors HIIT Improved Levels of Glucose Safely?

Can All Seniors HIIT Improved Levels of Glucose Safely?

What do you think when you hear “blogger?”  I imagine that many people equate the term with someone who writes (perhaps even daily) about something of interest in their lives, or which they are personally investigating.  One example that springs to my mind is the blogger’s story that was developed into the movie Julie and Julia, in which a young woman attempts to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes.  Other bloggers stick strictly to a narrow subject that may follow their own personal ‘story’ – bone cancer treatments – knitting sweaters for grandkids – work with refugees – canning jelly – training an animal – climbing high peaks – you name it.

Other hybrid sites, like Aging with Pizzazz cover a variety of storylines based on one broad theme.  Generally, I am not writing solely about a particular aspect of my life.  Why?  Mostly boredom.  I don’t have that much to say about anything (except perchance politics which is way too stressful of a topic).  Also, I like variety, and hope my readers do too.

All this said, I would like to share the beginning of an ‘experiment’ I am attempting and will report back to you about later.  I don’t anticipate a lot of coverage, but propose just to tell you the why, what, how, and later whether it worked or not.

As a caveat — CERTAINLY — an uncontrolled, one-subject case study, self-appointed, self-recorded, self-monitored and self-evaluated can never be extrapolated to a wider audience in any way.  Nevertheless, you may be able to use some of the information for your own activity or possibly your own evaluation.

The Plan

The ‘why’ is the easy part of my plan; it’s desire.  I would like to reduce my A1c score by 5% and secondarily reduce my weight by 5 pounds, both within 5 months.

What’s A1c again?

A1c is an abbreviation for glycated Hemoglobin (other times abbreviated as HbA1c).  The now-common A1c test is important monitoring for diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions.  It is not a replacement for glucose monitoring, which records your sugar level ‘at that moment’ but instead A1c is an average over the past 2-3 months.  As I mentioned in a pervious post on Alzheimer’s and Diabetes Collude it is the difference between a snap shot and a time-lapsed video (both of value).  Avoiding diabetes as we age is almost becoming a national pastime.  So, my prime objective in this little experiment is to bring my A1c down for preventative purposes.

A tertiary goal might be to achieve an increase in general fitness (tracked in terms of oxygen volume or VO2 max).  However, I will discuss in another blog one day why my at-home effort at evaluating that particular result might fall under the category my mother used to term “half-assed.”


Motivation at any Age

It may take more motivation than you would guess.

In a 2014  editorial, published along with its related study, researchers urged doctors to motivate their patients to exercise.  In part, they wrote the following:

It is important to promote exercise by stressing the potential harm of inactivity…..
Warn patients that inactivity can lead to a 25% increase in heart disease
and a 45% increase in cardiovascular disease mortality,
not to mention a 10% increase in the incidence of
cancer, diabetes, and untold depression.”

So, would this motivate me to action?  Surprising perhaps, but no, it might not motivate me.  Not really.  And if not, then why?  Partially because the impressive statistics go in one ear………and you know where they end up.   Secondarily, my answer to ‘why not’ is actually the number one barrier to success in this arena, and why so many people falter on exercise programs.  Time.  Maybe I could find time tomorrow, but not today.  Too many tomorrow-excuses can end up with too few tomorrows period.

In 2011 three of those same authors worked on a Lancet study and found that even 15 minutes of brisk walking per day would extend a person’s life expectancy.  Well, that is getting closer to my needs.

While some people do well, and enjoy, long-duration cardio workout, it isn’t for everyone.  Statistically, most good intenders, like me, just don’t find the time.  Consequently, when we hear that there is a ‘miracle’ short-cut we understandably brighten and enthusiastically wonder “is that too good to be true?”

That brings us to the process that may scare you by its very name: HITT – the acronym for High-Intensity Interval Training.  The “scary” part being high-intensity.  Despite what might be your first reaction, it doesn’t have to be just for fit athletes or the young.

“This is a very time-efficient workout strategy…….
Brief bursts of intense exercise are remarkably effective.”
   — Professor Martin Gibala,
McMaster University (Canada)
in a statement from a study on which he was lead author.

The Approach?

So, what’s the plan?  My strategy is to use ONE TYPE of the scary sounding HIIT.  I say “one type” because there are many, most of which are too much effort for my lazy soul.  I plan on a moderate version of HIIT (sometimes abbreviated more simply as ‘HIT’), but still incorporating the physiological strategy of “high intensity.”

The idea of quick and high intensity workouts has been studied for decades now.  Doubtless, few people could have missed hearing about it, or stumbling across the concept in frequent articles.  But all HITT versions are not the same; each utilizing different lengths of interval time, cooling periods, high to low intensity ratios or simply various degrees of effort.

These more strenuous programs below were part of earlier research BEFORE the “Fast Exercise’ program came out, but are leading methods still used today.

  1. Tabata method – 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of resting, repeated many times (usually 8).
  2. The Little Method – 60 seconds moderate-high intensity / 70 seconds low intensity, for 12 cycles.
  3. Turbulence Training. – 8 reps high weight training, 1-2 min high-intensity cardio, for a maximum of 45 minutes.

Here is a great graphic that explains these methods and the ideas behind HITT.  None of these will be the system I use.

Surprising Time & Response

Admittedly, I have previously taken part in this activity off and on, but neither with a regular schedule nor recorded methodology.  That actually puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage as some initial benefit may already have been achieved.  Still, we’ll see where we go with this one-person/non-controlled/half-hearted scheme.

As I mentioned the nickname can be intimidating to those who have somehow managed not to hear or read about HIIT,  But rest-assured, if I can manage to make something as easy as possible, then I am (as they say) ‘on it.’

As an example of my relatively lame motivation, I noticed my reaction to a headline I recently saw.  It read, “If you can run for 5 minutes a day, you may add years to your life.”  I thought to myself, ‘well if that’s a question, I answer NO.’

I HATE running; and am convinced that (for me) the jarring is too much on my joints.  We won’t mention that I have done other sports like tennis and racquetball that are quite injury-prone with their instant starts and stops (but they don’t bore me as much or become as uncomfortable).  Yes, the old adage – ‘each to their own.’  Still, if you re-worded that story headline and asked me ‘If you can run for just a few 20 second spurts a couple/few times a week, would you do it if it could add years to your life’ my answer might be much different.  So that is my starting point.

Another advantage is I am not required to purchase a gym membership or fancy gym clothing.  I don’t have to look lazy in front of others.  And for those who are noticeably overweight, you don’t have to have that ‘welcome chubby-human’ greeting at the door (even if it’s just spoken with the eyes).

And one final, but perhaps most important, benefit is that health advantages have been found to be present even for those with a history of exercise-failure.  These individuals don’t respond well to standard workout routines.  They often attempt to use exercise to lose weight but never get ahead or see long-term rewards.  Contrary to the view of their distractors, this is despite even heroic demonstrations of ‘sticktoitiveness.’  In the lab, these people are actually labeled ‘non-responders.’  To clarify, non-responder isn’t a choice, but is someone who does not seem to functionally respond to typical exercise as might be expected (such as losing weight).  They don’t do well on the success scale and most often score at a minimal or ‘nada’ level.

Initial critics of the short intense spurts (especially the popular 7-minute workout) reasonably argued that this was too difficult for some people for whom any movement would be better than none.  They maintained that those who really needed the exercise (for instance the ‘elderly’ or overweigh folks) might find this too strenuous or even dangerous.  This is what led researchers to investigate just HOW SHORT they could cut workout times and still maintain the advantages.

“Fast Exercise” Summary

Like all ‘new’ tends there is a good deal of hype, along with the evident that HITT is an effective and efficient exercise program. Most fascinating to me is research that demonstrates reduced risk of stroke or a cardiac incident.  Some questions linger whether HITT is as good for us as long-duration cardio programs or whether it is a matter of fad and marketing (or manipulated research).  So far, results remain encouraging, but to me time-saving is still the major allure.

Above I outlined various methods, but the approach that has probably raised the most eye-brows is the 2-4 minutes per WEEK.  It calls for a 20 second burst of activity (at 100% intensity), then a cool down period of a couple minutes, and repeated at least 2 more times.  That’s 60 seconds altogether of full out effort. That’s one minute. So where does the 2-4 minutes come in?  You do this 2-3 times per week. I have read of researches studying even shorter periods of time, but not significantly shorter.

British physician and research journalist, Dr. Michael Mosely (see BBC article or video below) is best known for promoting the term ‘fast exercise.’  Two minutes a week may sound ridiculously little, but do remember that this is not a 20-second session of a leisurely stroll, a fast walk or even a jog.  It is full out effort of large muscles (read that as legs) for 20 seconds and believe me it is QUITE an effort.

Check out this video:

You may prefer traditional exercise, or a different type of HIIT.  But if TIME has always been your excuse for not exercising, you just lost that excuse with HITT.

‘Fast’ it may be, but it does take substantial effort (based on your own potential).  If you have the slightest doubt about your physical condition to take this on, PLEASE contact your physician.  This is not just the cursory ‘CYA’ warning.  [Also see Safety Note for Gradual Start below.]

The Claims

Basically there are 3 major claims regarding HIIT process, and the difference from other exercise programs.  In summary they are:

  1. HIIT will improve insulin response (sensitivity) faster than regular (standard) exercise.
  2. HIIT works in less than half the time of normal exercise to increase your aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
  3. HIIT impacts muscle tissue at a cellular level, thus building muscle tone, and is the most efficient way to burn calories and lose some fat.

My Experiment

I would imagine that at this point you guessed that I have chosen the easiest of the researched methods.  You would be correct.  My plan is for 3 bouts of 20 seconds of intensive movement (all-out-effort) with recovery between each, and done 3 times a week for 5 months.

I may change the activity I am performing as long as I follow the HIIT plan.  In the past, I have tried biking, sprinting, rebounding and gym bands.  Joint comfort may play into your choices.  Incidentally, I have seen suggestions that people can do HIIT using the stairs in a building.  In general, I think we should all be a bit leery of that idea; the safety issues loom large in my mind.

Safety Note for Gradual Start. To those considering starting a program, but who are very unfit, elderly or frail, there are numerous approaches aside from the first step of getting buy-in from your physician.  While I wouldn’t recommend using the stairs as part of HITT, you might spend several weeks walking up several flights of stairs (perhaps taking the elevator down) until you are not winded (huh, at least much less winded).  This doesn’t mean the one level stairs as in my house, but at least four floors as in an office building.  Later you can still start out slowly (even with the ‘fast exercise’ program which may already seem slow enough to some).  You can build up doing 1 x 10 seconds (instead of 20 seconds) or 2 x 10, then 2 x 20.  All with sufficient recovery time (breathing normally) in between.

My goal:

  • 5 % off my A1c score *
  • 5 lbs of weight loss.
    (I’ll accept 4 lbs to accommodate all those who may want to point out that ‘muscle is heavier than fat.’  Ha.)

* In one study from Bath University (led by Dr. Niels Vollard in 2011 ) men improved their sensitivity to insulin by 28%,  but women did not.  Thus, I am curious to see my response.

I don’t plan a set schedule – as long as I do 3 per week.  Preferably every other day to allow lots of ‘recovery time.’  [I somewhat joke since recovery time for each of the 20 seconds will probably be about 2-3 minutes.  However, the benefits continue for approximately 48 hours.]

Can all Seniors HIIT Improved Levels of Glucose Safely?                       

I don’t know if all seniors can safely use HIIT to improve their glucose level. Research looks good and that’s the entire claim I will stick with.  Wish me luck.  Let’s see if this miracle time saver has any upshot for this one person.  I will let you know the outcome (good, bad, or mediocre) in 5 or 6 months.

Additional References

Video:  Brit Lab with Michael Mosely.  Fast exercise    

Fast Exercise.  Mosely, Michael and Peta Bee.  Atpria Paperback, 2014

Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training Despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment.  Authors: Gillen J, Martin B, MacInnis M, Skelly L, Tarnopolsky M, Gibala M.   PLOS ONE . 2016.

Picture credits:  Title pic:  Infographic design by VC Voltier Creative (link in post);  bike rider:


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2 thoughts on “Can All Seniors HIIT Improved Levels of Glucose Safely?

  1. Thanks for a great article. I always learn something new and interesting from your posts! Key takeaway: If I want to avoid the “Word of the Day,” I’d better exercise more. 🙂

    • That’s VERY humorous. The only thing I would add is that I think the key takeaway is that you can exercise LESS. BTW, the ‘words’ of the day aren’t my choice, but I often learn a new word myself. Thanks for reading.

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