So, you're saying that my trip to Target counts? Eh, not so fast.
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When it comes to working out, many women have a "get in, get out" mentality—which is one of the many reasons time-efficient HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts have exploded in popularity.
But if you've ever done a HIIT workout, you know it can take some psyching up to actually get one done. (It has the words "high-intensity" in it for a reason.) Between finding the time and knowing the next 20 minutes are going to be hellish, it's easy to see why you might bypass HIIT workouts entirely.
Amazing news: There's a new fitness acronym on the block and it's called HIIPA, or high-intensity incidental physical activity.
In a recent editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers from universities in Europe and Australia tout the benefits of HIIPA as "the new HIIT workout," arguing that any daily activity that gets you out of breath (from hauling groceries to climbing up your flight of stairs) can have the same benefits for your health as doing a HIIT workout. Hmmm...
How?! It's all about incorporating brief bouts of physical activity (PA) and vigorous physical activity (VPA) into your days to get your heart rate up. HIIT is usually characterized by efforts that reach 80 percent or above your VO2 max—usually the point where you have to stop exercising and take a break because it's too hard. Science lesson: Your VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense physical activity and is a good representative of your cardiovascular fitness.
And, yes, getting in that VPA can indeed happen in parts of your daily living. In the editorial, the authors argue that current research on HIIT shows consistent health and fitness benefits regardless of the number of repetitions or duration of the various protocols—so if you can hit that high-intensity threshold while walking up the stairs to your apartment and avoid going all the way to the gym, why not do it?
"What classifies as HIIPA varies by person and depends on your level of fitness, but activities that can qualify as HIIPA include climbing stairs, cleaning the house, yard work, shoveling snow or mulch, carrying groceries, carrying children, running errands where you briskly walk," says Stephanie Vedder, NASM-certified personal trainer and supervisor at Northwestern Medicine Crystal Lake Health & Fitness Center. The catch: You have to work hard enough that you're getting breathless. One VO2 max test called the "talk test" utilizes this same principle—when you can no longer hold a conversation during exercise, you've reached your VO2 max or ventilatory threshold.
The authors argue that you can score health benefits from doing three to five brief HIIPA sessions (totaling as little as five to 10 minutes a day) most days of the week.
"Regular incidental activity that gets you huffing and puffing even for a few seconds has great promise for health," said Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health in the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and School of Public Health, in the editorial's press release.
Their editorial supports changes in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (released in November 2018) that nixed previous guidelines saying that a single period of physical activity needed to be at least 10 minutes long to be beneficial to your health.
But there is a catch: They assert that HIIPA is a "particularly attractive option for inactive, obese, and other individuals in the greatest need of lifestyle intervention." So while the health benefits of HIIPA still stand for physically fit people, swapping your normal workout for HIIPA-only activity isn't recommended. Think about it: The same activities that get an untrained person out of breath will be very different from those that get say, a marathon runner, to that same level of exertion. The key is to hit an intensity relative to your own fitness level.
"It's exciting to know that intense bursts of activity can increase your overall health, but don't take this as a reason to give up your workouts," says Vedder. "To work your heart, you need sustained cardiovascular exercise, and to stay strong and build strength you should incorporate weight training." (Related: Do You Need Cardio to Lose Weight?)
Bottom line: The editorial hopes to emphasize the importance of getting your heart rate up throughout your day-to-day activities, even if you don't hit the gym, and that you especially don't need to kill yourself doing a HIIT workout to get some health benefits.
"On top of 'move as often as possible and sit less,' public health and clinical practices could emphasize simple messages analogous to 'huff and puff regularly,'" said Stamatakis.