It’s said that one of the surefire signs of getting older is having a hard time remembering things. Lapses in memory are very common as we age—we may forget where we left our keys, our wallet, or, God forbid, our pants. The delicate structure of our brain means that diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause permanent memory losses and impairments.
However, one new study found a simple new tool to help you in the fight against memory loss. It’s not a new drug, some marvelous new antioxidant, or even a form of cognitive therapy. In fact, it’s something you do every day: exercise! More specifically, high intensity interval training—also known as HIIT.
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a form of exercise that involves intermittent periods of low and high intensity exercise. For example, a 20-minute workout would be divided into intervals of 30-60 seconds of high intensity exercise, followed by 60 to 120 seconds of low-intensity exercise. These intervals stimulate muscle growth, activated fat stores, boost metabolism, and lead to a wide range of additional physical benefits.
According to the study, however, HIIT may also lead to improvements in your brain function—specifically, in your memory.
Researchers from McMaster University gathered 95 participants to take part in this study. All were healthy, young adults.
The participants were divided into four groups:
High intensity interval training (20 minutes of HIIT training per day)
Cognitive training (exercises to improve memory and cognitive abilities)
HIIT and cognitive training
No exercise or cognitive training (control group)
For six weeks, all four groups underwent daily training (or, in the case of the control group, no training at all) for their minds and/or bodies. After the six weeks, they were given “high-interference memory tasks” intended to tax their memory and cognitive abilities to the fullest.
Want to guess which groups performed the best on the tests? You got it: the group that did daily HIIT training and the group that combined both HIIT and cognitive training!
The training led to visible improvements of the young adults in just a short period (six weeks), indicating that regular HIIT could lead to cognitive benefits over the long term. The participants who experienced the greatest fitness gains also saw visible increases in their brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is one of the proteins that plays a role in the function, survival, and growth of brain cells. Simply put, exercise and improving fitness led to improved cognitive health and function as well!
According to the study’s lead author, “Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance.”
But the effects aren’t only in the short term! “At the other end of our lifespan, as we reach our senior years, we might expect to see even greater benefits in individuals with memory impairment brought on by conditions such as dementia.”
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High intensity interval training has been proven to be one of the most effective training protocols available to us today. The list of benefits is very long, and includes:
Better calorie-burning than aerobic activity
Less time required for improved fitness
Faster metabolism, and longer-lasting boost to metabolism after workout
More effective fat-burning, thanks to the activation of stored fats
Increased muscle growth as a result of the anaerobic nature of the high intensity intervals
More efficient oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity
Lowered blood pressure and heart rate, leading to better overall cardiovascular function
Decreased blood sugar and improved insulin control
Now, with the added cognitive benefits of HIIT, it’s hard to argue the belief that it truly is one of the best types of exercise to try.
So how can you start including high intensity interval training in your workout today? Easy!
Do you spend most of your gym time pedaling on the stationary bike, or do you love to ride around town? Try this HIIT workout:
Warm up for 3-5 minutes at a slow speed
Cycle at your fastest speed (sprint) for 30 to 60 seconds
Cycle at a slower, steady pace for 60 to 120 seconds
Repeat the fast and slow intervals for 15 minutes.
Cool down with 3-5 minutes of slow speed cycling.
Love hitting the treadmill or race track? Try this simple HIIT workout:
Warm up for 3-5 minutes at a slow jog
Run at your fastest speed (sprint) for 30 seconds
Jog at a slower, steady pace for 60 to 120 seconds
Repeat the fast and slow intervals for 15 minutes.
Cool down with 3-5 minutes of walking.
Quick, easy, and effective: what’s not to love about this fitness-enhancing, brain-boosting workout?
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