Move Well

Is high intensity interval training better than regular training?

Bottom Line:

This was a meta-analysis looking at studies comparing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and regular or moderate intensity continuous training (MICT).  In treadmill running, the authors found that both HIIT and MICT resulted in ~2.6kg of fat loss.  This is equivalent to ~10% drop in body fat from baseline.  Although both groups achieved similar results, the HIIT group required 40% LESS time. Thus, interval training may be very time efficient way to achieve the same results as continuous training.

Why this matters:

One of the most commonly cited barriers to exercise has always been lack of time.  High-intensity interval training (HIIT) offers a unique way to achieve the same results as regular treadmill running but with 40% less time. HIIT can be done by having short periods of intense exercise with less intense recovery periods. For example, sprint for 30 seconds and then slow down to a moderate pace for another 30 seconds.

Study Design:

This was a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 studies. Studies averaged roughly 10 weeks and included 3 sessions per week. The 424 participants were overweight or obese individuals ages 18-45 years. The participants did not have any other medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Key findings:

  • Body fat decreased 1.7kg for HIIT and 2.1kg for MICT
  • Waist Circumference decreased 3cm for both HIIT and MICT
  • Body weight decreased 2kg for HIIT and 1.9kg for MICT. This was not significant.
  • Sub-analysis showed that only running produced significant reduction in body fat and waist circumference. Cycling did not produce any significant effects.
  • Dropout rate was 16% for HIIT and 20% for MICT

Limitations:

  • The individual studies had small sample sizes.
  • The participants were healthy. It would be interesting to see if the results are the same in participants with diabetes.
  • There was a high dropout rate but interestingly it was lower in the HIIT group versus MICT group

Reference:

Wewege, M., van den Berg, R., Ward, R. E., and Keech, A. (2017) The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 18: 635–646. doi: 10.1111/obr.12532.

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Sean Hashmi, MD, MS, FASN

Sean Hashmi, MD, MS, FASN is a practicing Nephrologist and Obesity Medicine Specialist in Southern California. He is founding director of SELFPrinciple.org, a non-profit 501c(3), non-commercial site focused on evidence-based nutrition, health, and wellness. Dr. Hashmi graduated from the University of California, San Diego Medical School. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at UCLA-Olive View Medical Center followed by a fellowship in Nephrology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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