Study: High-intensity interval training elicits more enjoyment than moderate exercise

A shorter but more strenuous workout appears to be more enjoyable than a longer but moderate workout, a new study published in PLoS One has found.

In the study, 11 out of 12 participants found high intensity interval training more enjoyable than moderate intensity continuous exercise. The high intensity interval training consisted of eight 60 second bouts of cycling at near full effort, followed by 60 seconds of recovery. The moderate intensity continuous exercise consisted of 20 minutes of steady cycling at 45% maximal workload.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Todd A. Astorino of California State University, San Marcos. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Astorino: The Physical Activity guidelines for all adults recommends 150 min/wk of moderate continuous exercise training (MICT) to improve fitness and health status; however, only about 25 % of all US adults attain this recommendation. Frequently they do not do this due to lack of time. However, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been consistently shown to elicit similar and in many cases superior health-related benefits to MICT despite being more time-efficient. Previous studies were equivocal in that some showed that HIIT is viewed as more enjoyable than MICT; whereas, others did not. We wanted to advance the knowledge base in this area by further testing the theory that HIIT is viewed as more enjoyable than MICT despite being more intense.

What should the average person take away from your study?

A brief bout of HIIT eliciting approximately 90 % HRmax reveals higher enjoyment than 25 min of MICT, despite the fact that heart rate and energy expenditure are higher in response to HIIT versus MICT. This suggests that active participants may enjoy the intermittent, challenging nature of HIIT more so than the mundane nature of MICT.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

This study was performed in habitually active adults, so it is not as important to demonstrate this in people who already exercise compared to those who do not, or even clinical populations such as diabetics, the obese, etc. Moreover, there are other more intense forms of HIIT called sprint interval training, and we still do not know if this is viewed as more or less enjoyable compared to MICT.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Perceptual responses such as enjoyment tell us a little about participants’ experiences with exercise, and may shed light on whether the individual will adhere to exercise long-term. Hence, it is important to measure variables like this in studies testing the feasibility of new approaches to exercise training.

The study, “High-Intensity Interval Training Elicits Higher Enjoyment than Moderate Intensity Continuous Exercise“, was also co-authored by Jacob S. Thum, Gregory Parsons, and Taylor Whittle.