Is HIIT better than cardio based on science?

We know that exercise is beneficial for our health.

Scientific research shows that physical activity reduces the risk of all-cause mortality. Some studies also show that physical activity reduced the risk of cancer by 20% and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Also, physical activity has many benefits for mental health.

If you want to find out more about benefits of exercise then you can click here to read my article about it.

The issue may be that there are a lot of different types of exercise and exercises.

So, it’s hard to say for sure which type of exercise is better for us and choose the right one. Different experts may have different opinions about it which can make this decision even harder.

That’s why in this post we’ll check out what does the scientific research say and is HIIT better than cardio based on science?

What is high intensity interval training (HIIT)?

High Intensity Interval Training is a type of anaerobic exercise that requires to perform exercises with as much effort as possible for short bursts, then rest for quick recovery periods or perform some less intensive exercise.

The key with HIIT is the intensity. You should give your best (about 80% of your maximum effort to be precise) when doing exercise for a short period of time, then rest, then give your best again while doing the exercise, then rest again and so on.

For example, you can do as much burpees as possible during 60 seconds, then rest or active rest for 60 seconds, then do mountain climbers for 60 seconds, then rest for 60 seconds and so on until you can only say no more than a few words without pausing for a breath or until you get your heart rate to around at least 80% of your max heart rate.
You can calculate your maximum heart rate using the equation below [1]:
HRmax = 208 − 0.7 × age

So, if you are 30 years old then your maximum heart rate is 187 BPM. And 80% of 187 is 149.6. So, if you are 30 years old and have some kind of fitness tracker then when doing HIIT you should aim at your heart rate to be about 150 BPM.

What is cardio?

Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. It’s a type of aerobic exercise that ranges from low to high intensity dependent on the type of exercise performed. Usually cardio intensity falls between 50% and 70% of maximum heart rate (MHR).

What’s the difference between HIIT and cardio?

The main difference is the intensity and time. HIIT is performing exercises with as much effort as possible for short periods of time with some rest intervals while cardio is performing some exercise for a continuous period of time like running for 45 minutes.
HIIT usually takes about 10-30 minutes to perform.

Is HIIT better than cardio based on science?

Meta-analysis of 17 studies shows that HIIT may be superior to MICT (moderate intensity continuous training like cardio) [2].

A systematic review of 22 studies shows that HIIT is safe and appears to be more effective than MICT (moderate intensity continuous training like cardio) for improving cardiorespiratory fitness in patients with CVD (cardiovascular disease) [3].

Meta-analysis of 21 studies suggests that HIIT can be a promising alternative for the treatment of sleep disorders [4].

Meta-analysis of 58 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) says that HIIT may improve sleep and psychological distress [5].

A meta-review of 33 systematic reviews shows that HIIT may improve cardiorespiratory fitness, cardiovascular function, anthropometric variables, exercise capacity, muscular structure and function, and anxiety and depression severity in healthy individuals and those with physical health disorders [6].


So, is HIIT better than cardio based on science? The short answer is it depends on what you like. HIIT can give you the same results as cardio but in a shorter period of time. So, if you like giving your best in a short period of time and you don’t have much time but still want to improve your performance then HIIT may be a better option for you.

However, if you want to combine your exercise with some sort of meditation where you can also distract yourself from some negative thoughts and switch to something positive then cardio may be a good choice for you.

P.S. If you want to find out how science-based nutrition and diet can prevent the most common diseases, improve your overall health and help you live longer then you can click here to learn more.

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