All exercise is good: It can lower cholesterol, decrease the risk of blood clots, and even reverse heart disease. Cardiologists now recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three times a week. But one kind of activity is best: high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. A solid HIIT workout, according to recent research, builds heart strength by increasing your ticker’s pumping capacity.
“In order to increase the strength of any muscle, you have to stress it,” says Paul Robbins, a metabolic specialist with Athletes’ Performance in Arizona. A HIIT workout is better than other exercise routines because the rest periods make it possible to complete short workouts at higher intensities.
We asked Robbins and exercise physiologist Ulrik Wisløff, Ph.D., to design the ultimate heart-strengthening regimen. Do the 42-minute program (which requires a heart-rate monitor) twice a week, alternating it with your strength sessions. And best of all, interval training has been proven to turn back the clock on aging.
Note: Ask your doctor to evaluate your heart health before starting an exercise program if you’re not used to vigorous activity.
Jog for five minutes at a pace at which you can easily hold a conversation. Though, if you’re not limbered up, consider doing the 5 best warm-up stretches of all time before your run.
This can work for any of these activities: Running, or any cardio activity that involves the large muscle groups—e.g., cycling, rowing, or swimming.
Minute 1: Run at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Minute 2: Run at 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Minute 3: Run at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Minute 4: Run at 75 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Minute 5: Run at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.
After you wrap up the five-minute cycle, take a three-minute break. Walk or jog at a conversational pace for this rest period. Then, repeat this full cycle of five-minute intervals and three-minute active recoveries three more times.
Walk or jog for five minutes at a pace at which you can hold a conversation.
Expert advice: Bump up your heart fitness another notch by alternating intervals between the treadmill and other equipment. “The more large-muscle groups you use, and the more you vary the equipment, the better it is for cardiovascular fitness,” says Robbins.
TIP 1: There are 12 one-minute sprints in the workout. Aim to maintain consistency from the first sprint to the last sprint, and if possible, finish stronger than you start.
TIP 2: Initially, take more rest between sprints, if need be, to ensure your form stays good throughout the HIIT workout. If your heart rate is not dropping 20-plus beats between intervals, then take more rest and skip an interval.
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