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Is ‘HIIPA’ the New HIIT? It May Be Just As Effective—but There’s a Catch

These quick, do-anywhere workouts can be finished in seconds. But how much do they really help?

Morning jogging young woman outdoors.
Irina VodnevaGetty Images
  • The benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are well established, but sticking to a program can be challenging.
  • Researchers now believe high-intensity incidental physical activity, or HIIPA, can rival HIIT in terms of cardiorespiratory advantages, according to a new editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
  • The benefits may be most obvious in sedentary people. Those who are already active should look to HIIPA as a complement rather than a replacement for their regular routine.

    The benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are almost too numerous too name: You can lose weight, ward off aging, and boost your brain, as well as improve your speed and your performance. Over the last decade or so, the advantages of that type of training have continued to add up.

    But there may be a new darling in the fitness world. It’s called high-intensity incidental physical activity (HIIPA, which is different than the medical privacy legislation HIPAA). And according to authors of a new editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the benefits of HIIPA—which they define as “part of one’s daily living that is not done with the purpose of recreation or health and requires no sacrifice of discretionary time”—may actually rival those of HIIT.

    Think of HIIPA as “exercise snacks,” like sprinting up the stairs a few times a day, putting more vigor in your housework, or even lugging your heavy grocery bags into the house in one shot.

    These sporadic bursts of exercise could have major advantages for those who are less active otherwise, said lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, Ph.D., from the School of Public Health, University of Sydney.

    He told Runner’s World that benefits will vary by age and fitness level. For an unfit, sedentary person—which is the majority of U.S. adults, he noted—the main plus from HIIPA done three to four times per day would be improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, and better capacity to exercise in general.

    Stamatakis added that studies in young adults show that as little as three sessions of stair climbing per day on three days per week can increase measures of fitness by 5 percent over six weeks. That’s just one minute total of HIIPA per day, he said.

    “One would expect much larger improvements if the same experiment was repeated in sedentary and unfit middle-aged or older adults, and if the dose of HIIPA was larger, such as a total of two minutes per day,” he said.

    [Blast through a series of HIIT sessions to boost running strength and prevent injury with the IronStrength Workout.]

    But what does HIIPA mean for a regular runner, who is logging multiple training sessions per week?

    Well, you might not want to hang up your trainers just yet. For a person who exercises regularly—especially if you are already a fan of HIIT who also make an effort to move more throughout the day—it’s unlikely that adding more HIIPA will have those big benefits.

    That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, though, Stamatakis said.

    Integrating more HIIPA-style movements—such as adopting a brisker walking pace, carrying heavier loads like laundry or groceries up stairs, and vigorously scrubbing out your fridge—may help cut down on the amount of more structured workouts you need to do for the same cardio results. They can also bridge the gap on weeks where your training might be a little more sparse than usual, too.

    “The takeaway message is that most adults will benefit from making the most of any opportunities in their daily routines to ‘huff and puff’ regularly, just for two or three minutes,” said Stamatakis.

    Add this to the fact that the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines have removed the stipulation that exercise bouts must be at least 10 minutes long to “count,” and there’s no good reason not to add a bit more unstructured movement to your day.

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