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What is HIIT (high intensity interval training)?

I get asked regularly what is the best form of exercise for midlife women. One thing to remember is that if you exercise too hard for too long you raise your cortisol levels. Cortisol levels raise insulin levels and when you put the two together you get belly fat!  Kind of defeats the purpose.  So, if you do an hour long spin class when you're in perimenopause or are post menopausal you are actually doing yourself more harm than good.  If you have a 23 year old Personal Trainer who pushes you to the limit for an hour then he's doing you a disservice. Smarter not harder is the way to go at our age.

So today I'm going to talk about one thing I always recommend which is HIIT (high intensity interval training).  But what exactly is it?  Well, it's one of the easiest and most efficient ways to burn fat and lose weight without losing muscle. Depending on the exercise you do, you can even build muscle whilst doing it! And why do women want to build muscle I hear you ask?  Well, having muscle speeds up your metabolism which makes you burn fat faster.  It's a win-win situation.

HIIT is a style of cardiovascular exercise that is especially helpful for burning fat, building strength and improving glucose metabolism - the way your body burns energy. HIIT involves short bursts of high-intensity movement with low to medium intensity recovery periods.  For example I do a form of HIIT called Tabatas which are 20 seconds flat out in an exercise, eg. running, and then 10 seconds rest.  I use the treadmill for this and run very fast for 20 and jump off for 10.  I do a total of 8 rounds.  I then wait until I have fully recovered before I go again.  I do a total of 3 Tabatas.  It's quick and it's effective.  

It doesn't have to be running; you could row, skip rope, do push ups or squats - whatever takes your fancy.  

The advantages of HIIT

Fat Burning

Research has shown that most of the fat that leaves your body exits through your nose as part of the breathing process.  I know - crazy, right?!  HIIT is designed to make your lungs work more efficiently by enhancing your maximum oxygen uptake.  The more oxygen you take in, the more fat you expel along with all that carbon dioxide.


HIIT is a short and sharp workout.  Who wants to spend hours in the gym? And you can also do it in your living room!  Download a HIIT timer for your phone and start doing your squats or star jumps in your living room.  You don't need a treadmill or fancy equipment.

One thing to remember about HIIT, though, is that it's not for total beginners.  It's best to work up to this style of training.  If, though, you have been exercising for a while and have built up your aerobic fitness then give it a go.

The other thing to remember is that HIIT should be paired with other forms of exercise in midlife.  Steady aerobic exercise, eg. walking or slow jogging, swimming or dancing plus weight (resistance) training are equally as important.  I will go into these in separate blogs.

But first you have to start, right?  Just get your comfy shoes on and go for a walk. We all had to start somewhere so just take the first step.  If I went from being a non-exerciser to what I can do now - seriously, anybody can