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Everyone has heard the recommendation that you should exercise for one hour every single day. However, many people do not realize that exercising too much can be more harmful than not working out at all. So let’s talk about the benefits of high intensity interval training.

Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training: Overexertion Is Dangerous

Long distance running is a great example in which overexertion can take place. Pheidippides was an Athenian messenger who ran across the land of Marathon to announce the Greek victory over the Persian army.

Since that time, marathon running has caused a great debate. When Pheidippides arrived, he said “Rejoice, we conquer,” and then he immediately dropped dead.

While some contend this story is untrue, many understand that marathon running (and overexertion) can be very harmful to the human body. Dr. James O’Keefe of Preventive Cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute of Saint Luke’s Health System said,

“The heart pumps about 5 quarts per minute when we’re sitting. When we’re running, it goes up to 25 to 30 quarts. The heart wasn’t meant to do that for hours, day in and day out. You end up overstretching the heart and tearing muscle fibers. Up to 30 percent of those who finish marathons have elevated troponin levels, which is a marker for heart damage. That’s the marker we look for to see if someone’s having a heart attack- it’s irrefutable evidence of heart damage,” (1)

There is a correlation between running and shortened life expectancy. A recent study shows that long distance runners have the same life span as couch potatoes. (2)

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Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training: A New Day, a New Standard

Fortunately, global health authorities have discovered a new effective way to train and exercise, which is high intensity interval training (HIIT). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends:

“Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity through the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity through the week or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.” (2)

Although the WHO still recommends an hour of cardio five times a week, it is reassuring to know that the benefits of high intensity interval training workouts are getting more attention around the world.

Benefits of HIIT: The Basic Principals Behind High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is a combination of short but high intensity bursts of exercise with slow recovery times repeated during a short session, such as 15-20 minutes. The workout is completed at 85-100 percent of your maximum heart rate, rather than 50-70 percent in a moderate endurance activity. This burst training workout can be done anywhere with any type of movement, as long as it is performed like a sprint rather than a marathon.

One of the advantages of high intensity workouts is that they can be done at home with little to no equipment. For example, you could go to a track and walk the curves and sprint the straight lines. If you enjoy biking, you can spin at maximum speed for 20 seconds, and then go easy for 20 seconds, repeating the bursts for 10-20 minutes.

Elite athletes have been using burst training for years. While this method of exercise isn’t new, it proves that anybody can train this way, whether they are an Olympian or not.

Workouts Have Two Important Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training

Burst training is efficient – and my preferred method of exercise – because it has a positive impact on the entire body.


According to a 2012 presentation at the European Society of Cardiology, (3)

  • HIIT activates telomerase, an anti-aging enzyme, and reduces p53 expression, reduces p53 expression – the most commonly mutated gene in people with cancer.
  • One workout can increase telomerase by circulating the cells.
  • Physical activity and life expectancy have a positive correlation.

Not only can HIIT workouts benefit our DNA, but they help the following:

  • Decreased body fat
  • Improved libido
  • Better muscle tone
  • Fewer wrinkles, firm skin
  • Increased energy
  • Boosted metabolism

Balancing Key Hormones: Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training

The overall most important benefit of high intensity training is the management of hormones responsible for weight gain and unhealthy eating.


Ghrelin is a hormone related to long-term weight gain and short term eating habits, such as the “munchies.” This hunger hormone is produced in the stomach and can stimulate appetite. Ghrelin mainly contributes to sweet, salty, and fried food cravings. It has a unique way of slowing down fat usage. Some other important facts are:

  • Ghrelin “primes the brain” for post-traumatic stress disorder.” (4)
  • Ghrelin continues the stress-cycle, which contributes to weight gain.
  • Ghrelin is released directly in response to stressful situations, which clarifies why people eat when they are stressed.

Associate Professor Jeffrey Zigman, MD, PhD, of UT Southwestern Medical Center states that ghrelin is related to stress and it helps explain certain complex eating behaviors and may be one of the mechanisms by which obesity develops in people exposed to psychosocial stress.


Leptin is considered the “starvation hormone” because it makes your body feel like it is full. By telling your brain you have eaten enough, leptin ensures that your energy levels are adequate. Typically, your fat cells create enough leptin so your internal energy level manages your weight and helps your cells to function.

When people gain weight, their blood leptin levels can rise and weight loss will result because the body feels full faster when eating food. However, many individuals ignore these warning signs and they eat too much. This makes them “leptin resistant” which causes more weight gain and obesity.

Three important pointers:

  • High intensity training is a natural way to control these hormones and more.
  • Leptin manages long-term energy balance and suppresses food consumption, which helps weight loss.
  • Ghrelin is a vital and fast-acting hormone that contributes to weight gain.

The past decade has had substantial research that shows ghrelin increases and leptin decreases after burst training workouts. High Intensity Interval Training is one of the best ways to manage your hunger cues and to maximize your hormones to lose weight.


Researchers have been confused for years due to these four hormone facts:

  • Both of these hormones increase after high intensity training workouts.
  • Increases in testosterone encourage weight loss.
  • Reduced levels of leptin are responsible for weight gain.
  • Testosterone impedes the discharge of leptin in the body.

Ultimately, high intensity interval training creates an effect on testosterone and leptin in the body. These hormones offset each other, but promote the same weight loss effect. This poses many questions, “Would the level of leptin created as a result of HIIT be sufficient to offset testosterone’s capacity to slow down leptin release?”

The journal Endocrine published a study that says, YES! (5) High intensity workouts cause leptin to not be impacted by the harmful effects of high testosterone. No relation could be found between the two hormones during the study. By doingHigh Intensity Interval Training workouts, you receive the hormonal benefit of weight loss.

Additionally, health and exercise science researchers in the UK have shown the various hormone levels for individuals who do burst training: (6)

  • Growth hormone (accredited to weight loss) increases, which shows that burst training impacts other hormones besides ghrelin and leptin.
  • Ghrelin declines after 30 minutes of recovery.

These two pieces of research show that burst training is effective in curbing appetite and controlling weight gain.

Benefits of HIIT: A Final Thought

There are effective ways to performHigh Intensity Interval Training workouts. It is best to exercise first thing in the morning to control your leptin and ghrelin throughout the day. According to the Journal of Physiology, exercising on an empty stomach has been shown to improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. (7) This helps to prevent type II diabetes, improve weight loss, and curb any cravings to eat unhealthy food.

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