Aerobic exercise has long been recommended as key to keeping your heart healthy. However, recently a new fitness program has become popular that has shown to be even more effective in fighting cardiovascular disease, and significantly improving your overall fitness levels.

Interval training is a style of exercise that combines short bursts of high intensity training with short periods of rest, alternating between the two, otherwise known as HIIT (high intensity interval training).

It allows for a much more effective workout in less time and 15 minutes of HIIT provides more benefits than an hour of cardio.

So, how is interval training beneficial compared with regular exercise? Below are several reasons why this needs to be your new exercise regime.

1. Strengthens cardiovascular system

Interval training has been proven to double the heart protecting benefits of aerobic exercise. The high intensity short bursts make the heart pump harder, helping to improve the strength of your cardiovascular system. Another benefit is the production of nitric oxide in the arterial wall, helping them to dilate and enabling a greater blood flow.

One study into the benefits of interval training compared a group of walkers walking at a moderate pace with one using brief bursts of higher intensity walking.

The research showed that the group engaging in the ‘interval walking’ had a VO2 max level increase three times higher than the group carrying out moderately paced walking (VO2 max being the maximum level of oxygen that an individual can use).

2. Helps avoid type 2 diabetes

High intensity cardio workouts such as interval training also significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a major precursor to heart disease. It does this by increasing the occurrence of mitochondria in muscle cells.

This has the effect of helping the body convert more carbohydrate and fat into fuel, which in turn lowers the body’s insulin sensitivity. The less sugars present within the body, the less the likelihood of diabetes.

3. Working the anaerobic AND aerobic processes

Traditional cardiovascular workouts tend to focus on aerobic exercises. The heart actually uses two metabolic processes: the aerobic (which require oxygen for fuel), and the anaerobic (which do not). The body has three different types of muscle fiber: slow twitch, fast twitch and super-fast twitch.

Being a muscle, the heart needs all three types to operate properly. Normal intensity, elongated cardio work only engages the slow twitch muscle fibers.

However, with interval training the anaerobic aspect of the heart’s metabolic process is engaged, helping to build the fast twitch and super-fast twitch muscle that the heart also consists of. By only performing normal cardio exercises, only the aerobic process is being improved.

4. Improved heart rate recovery

Using high intensity interval training also reduces your heart rate recovery time.

By improving your anaerobic process within the heart, you have the added benefit of improving the time that your heart takes to recover from vigorous exercise. Like any part of the body, the heart improves when exercised, and improving the heart rate recovery can be a key factor in reducing the risk of heart disease in the future.

Studies have shown that a slower rate of heart rate recovery can increase the likelihood of heart problems later in life. By exercising at a much higher heart rate than normal cardio, not only is the heart muscle strengthened, but the ability for it to recover increases.

5. Improving your heart’s output

Long drawn out cardio has the effect of improving endurance, which you would think would be a good thing. However, this also teaches the cardiovascular system to do as little work as possible.

Interval training strengthens the heart by asking it to overcome the demand placed on it. In the event of a heart attack, a bigger immediate cardiac output is what you need to survive. Interval training therefore helps build a healthy heart capable of overcoming a heart attack.