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Here’s Why HIIT Workouts May Be Best for Your Body — and Brain

  • New research finds that workout routines with bursts of intensity followed by short periods of rest have a positive effect on the brain’s neuroplasticity.
  • Neuroplasticity is a phenomenon that refers to the brain’s ability to adapt to change by altering its functional and structural properties.
  • Researchers say longer bouts of high intensity exercise may increase levels of cortisol in the body enough to interfere with some of the positive benefits from the exercise.

It’s no secret that physical exercise offers a myriad of health benefits. But depending on your goals and your level of physical fitness, the type and duration of exercise you need to meet those goals could differ drastically.

Should you hit the weights for resistance training? Go on a long jog? Yoga?

Whatever your preferred method of exercise, new research from the University of South Australia has found that regularly mixing up your routine can have a positive effect on both your body and your brain.

In a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, researchers reviewed 12 different experiments involving 128 people designed to monitor changes in the brain during bouts of aerobic exercise.

They were particularly interested in the specifics of which types and durations of exercise yielded the greatest changes in neuroplasticity.

Scientists believe that persistent heavy exercise can increase cortisol levels enough to interfere with some of the positive changes from the exercise itself.

They hypothesize that moderate continuous aerobic exercise or interval training allows the body to better control cortisol levels during a workout.

“We suggest the exercise prescriptions that show the greatest benefits for neuroplasticity occur at intensities where… cortisol is maintained at levels that did not block the neuroplasticity response. For example, the spaced breaks within HIIT may allow cortisol to return to levels that did not block the neuroplasticity response,” said Smith.

If you’ve followed fitness trends at all over the past several years, you’ve probably heard the buzz about high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

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