Exercise is great - no matter why type of activity you do. Whether you love a long morning walk or work up a good sweat in the gym - it's all good! But one form of fitness has proven to be the best exercise for both brain health and weight loss. It's called high intensity interval training, or HIIT workouts.
If you read The Belly Burn Plan, you're familiar with HIIT. The book is loaded with six weeks of HIIT workouts for all fitness levels.
But if you've never tried a HIIT workout, your body and your brain could be missing out. Let me explain.
HIIT Workouts: The Benefits
HIIT as an exercise works better than just about any weight loss drug for shedding a few pounds, but it also plays a role in improving the function of our brain, from impulse control (think sugary foods) to memory.
When we gain weight, especially through our belly area, it's especially hard on our body for a number of reasons. This type of fat is called "visceral fat," and triggers an inflammatory response.
That's right...belly fat triggers inflammation and inflammation triggers belly fat. This is why it can be so darn difficult to lose weight through the belly area.
Of course, eating anti-inflammatory foods, getting plenty of sleep and managing stress helps keep belly fat and inflammation at bay, but HIIT workouts are the mother lode of all things good when it comes to activity and cognitive function.
Research has shown that very small, but intense amounts of HIIT raise the level of a protein in the brain, referred to as BDNF, that helps keep neurons functioning properly.
Beyond the brain benefits, very small, but intense amounts of HIIT activates our metabolism in such a way that we blast fat from our belly area.
And when I say small amounts of exercise, I'm referring to four (4) 4-minute intervals of exercise.
Naturally, these intervals are incredibly challenging, but not without reward (examples given below). Not only is this good-for-you brain protein elevated through this form of exercise, but HIIT has also been shown to drop body fat much more than moderate exercise in both men and women.
It doesn't matter what shape you're in, how old you are or if you're a man or a woman - anyone can reap the benefits of this form of exercise. Before I get into the details on how to do an HIIT workout, let's recap the benefits one more time.
Weight Loss Benefits of HIIT
- Just four (4) 4-minute short intervals boost fat burning, especially of visceral (belly) fat, than easy to moderate exercise.
- Anyone can do HIIT workouts to get this benefit. You don't need to be in good shape to do this form of exercise.
- Your body will continue to burn fat for up to 36 hours after you finish the workout.
- These workouts can be done just a few times a week to get real benefits.
- It's entirely possible that following an HIIT workout routine regularly along with eating healthier can help you lose real weight permanently.
Brain Benefits of HIIT
- HIIT exercise elevates a protein in the brain that helps keep brain cells healthy.
- These high intensity workouts help to reduce inflammation that can affect the brain.
- HIIT has been shown to prevent age-related cognitive problems.
- In addition to brain health, HIIT has shown to delay age-related decline in muscle mitochondria.
HIIT is essentially the fountain of youth for our brain and body. Obviously, I'm a big fan. Get to it!
The Key to HIIT
The key to HIIT is giving it everything you've got for a short period of time. How much is "everything you've got"? Well, that depends on your fitness level. It means pushing yourself to your near limit. A 30-second running sprint for one person might be at five-minute mile pace, but for another, it might be at 11 or 12-minute mile pace.
You don't need any special equipment for an HIIT workout. All you really need is your own body.
If you can't run, don't worry about it. There are a lot of ways to activate a HIIT workout.
Work Harder, Get Smarter
We all know that exercise can stimulate blood flow to the brain, of course, but another study conducted by the Montreal Health Institute showed again that HIIT made people smarter! The study used overweight adults and put them through a series of 30 on/30 off (see an example below) workouts for four months. Not only did their waistline improve, but their brain power did as well!
A HIIT workout is not something you need to do each and everyday, but should be done most days of the week. For example, making the time to do an HIIT workout every other day is all you need to lose weight and feel great.
Lose Weight with HIIT
I've been a huge believer in HIIT for years. The most difficult obstacle I have when working with new clients is getting them to understand that HIIT is not restricted to people who are already super fit and in great health. Anyone can do it, and the results are incredible. I started HIIT to improve my lung capacity so I could run faster. This is still important to me, but now I practice HIIT because it's a more efficient way to workout. I don't have to workout for a very long period of time to get great results (and now I know I'm getting smarter, too!).
That means you don't have to workout very long to get the exact same benefits as me.
If you want to lose weight, especially through your belly area, then HIIT is an easy choice for you. I'm not suggesting that you should give up morning walks, yoga classes or even any other form of fitness that you enjoy, but incorporating HIIT to the mix is the icing on the cake that really makes a difference.
Check out my sample workouts at the bottom of this page. If you're not finding what you're looking for there, then pick up The Belly Burn Plan. It contains six weeks of HIIT workouts catered toward your fitness level.
Sample HIIT Workout
Give this workout a shot today. It's not a walk in the park, but you can do it!
Find a piece of cardio equipment, or an open stretch of sidewalk or road. Take the time to warm up for about 10 minutes. Make sure you're loose and feeling warm before you shoot out of the gate. You'll be done with this workout in about 30 minutes. Remember, effort is based on your level, or perceived exertion.
Perceived exertion is something I used to use all the time when I personal trained people. Perceived exertion answers the question, "How hard are you working right now?"
If you wear a heart rate monitor, you can probably track this much better. It's the "red line" part of a workout - so to speak.
Base your perceived exertion on a scale of 1 - 10 with 1 being no effort and 10 being as hard as you can possibly go. Where you see very hard effort below, push yourself to about a 9 on that scale of 1 - 10.
Remember, if you can't or don't want to run, then do this on an indoor bike, elliptical, stair climber - or anything that you feel you can safely push yourself as hard as you need to.
You won't get the benefits if you're not pushing yourself as hard as what's needed, which is the perceived exertion level of 9. Each of the intervals below are very short and should not take you long to do.
Each intense interval is always followed by an easy recovery interval, that's important to do so you can push yourself hard again.
This workout is a bit longer than the HIIT exercises in the research I referenced, but your body will love you more for it!
HIIT SPEED WORK
- 30-Second Sprint (Very Hard Effort)
- 30-Second Easy (Jog or Easy Cardio Effort)
- 45-Second Sprint (Very Hard Effort)
- 45-Second Easy (Jog or Easy Cardio Effort)
- 60-Second Sprint (Very Hard Effort)
- 60-Second Easy (Jog or Easy Cardio Effort)
REPEAT from the top 2 times
HIIT BODY WORK
- 30-Second Jump Squats
- 30-Second Rest
- 30-Second High Knees (like jogging in place, but pulling knees up really high)
- 30-Second Rest
- 30-Second Burpee
- 30-Second Rest
REPEAT from the top 2 times
HIIT CORE WORK
- 30-second plank
- 30-second side plank right side
- 30-second side plank left side
REPEAT from the top 2 times
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that you should talk to a doctor if you have any questions about whether or not you can handle this type of a workout. Certainly, talk to a medical practitioner if you're under a physician's care for something pre-existing.
So what are the exercises I mention above? Here you go!
HIIT Exercise Definitions:
Burpees: Another classic, start standing feet shoulder-width apart, drop down to squat, then push up position, kicking your legs out. Pull your legs back in (looks like you’re back to a squatting position), jump up and land with your feet planted.
Jump Squats: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, clasp your hands behind your head and pull your shoulder blades back and down. Pulling your shoulders back will help keep you from falling forward, placing unnecessary stress over your knees, risking injury. From this position, bend knees and come into a squat position with your thighs as close to parallel with the ground as possible. Think of sitting into a chair as you come down – keeping your hands behind your head. Just as you come down into this position, spring back up jumping off the ground. Land and go right back into it.
Plank: Planks are a great isometric exercise! They’re also a testament of your core fitness if you can (slowly but surely) build a little stamina with this exercise. Simply rest your forearms on the ground with the palms of your hands facing down, or together in prayer position. With your legs completely straight, rest on your toes drawing your belly button into your spine. Hold.
Side Plank: Start lying on the ground on your side. Push yourself up onto one arm with your hand just under your shoulder. Weight in your hand should be equally distributed throughout the fingers and palm. With legs extended, slowly stack your feet on top of each other and raise your opposite arm up into the air – reaching for the sky! Now hold. Note: If you’re not able to balance on your hand, bend your arm and rest on your forearm, with your elbow resting under your shoulder.