HIIT to Improve Cognition in Seniors and Older Adults

Walking, the standby exercise for seniors and older adults.  Walking is a start for lots of people, and unfortunately the end also.

To use the body’s natural ability for improving cognitive function through BDNF, a hormone in the hippocampus that grows brain cells, a person has to raise their heart rate to a minimum of 70%MHR (maximum heart rate).  For the most part, walking doesn’t cut the mustard.  The intensity has to increase which means a person must jog at the absolute minimum to sustain that 70%MHR of at least 20 minutes.  But wait, there’s more…

In a recent study published the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers discovered HIIT style workouts are the best for improving cognitive function.  Add to that from another study Resistance Training and Executive Function, resistance training shows improved executive function as well as short term memory and attention.  How can an older adult maximize their strength, cardiovascular fitness, and slow decline?  HIIT with weights!  The reality check now:  get off the same machines and do more than walk around the same block.

Yes, enrolling in a HIIT type class filled mostly with fit people in their 20’s and 30’s is extremely intimidating.  Luckily there are many options for HIIT style workouts that can be done in a gym or home setting and require moderate weight.  Intensity is subjective and has different meanings for everyone.  To record enough intensity in a workout, a heart rate monitor is a great way to make sure you stay between 70-90% of your MHR.  Another way is the “Talk Test” or RPE (rate of perceived exertion), which monitors if you’re conversation is labored and still capable of speaking with another person coherently.  The Talk Test is what I use for my own monitoring and with my clients.

One of the better parts of HIIT workouts are they don’t take very long.  A 30-minute HIIT session is plenty 2-3 times per week, to achieve the physical and cognitive benefits both studies discuss.  Change up the exercises once per month and you’re on the way to improved health in a variety of areas.  I like the Movement Academy Active Aging Home Exercise Program because it incorporates all areas of fitness and automatically changes for you each month.  It takes the guesswork out of what to do, and you can create your own playlist each workout.  The cost is only $14.95 per month, no contract, and accessible from any device.

Humans don’t like change, and especially change that challenges and takes us out of our proverbial comfort zones.  As they also say, personal growth lies just outside our comfort zone.  As always, check with your doctor if you feel it necessary before starting a new exercise program.  Science isn’t wrong, people’s attitudes and fear are what drive whether scientific evidence becomes mainstream or not.  Try a HIIT session.  Do it with a friend for more fun and increase the odds you both do it again.  You will be amazed by the changes in your physique and mental acuity, regardless of your age!  I promise, the process works when you stick with it and have an open mind.

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