High-Intensity Interval Training in Older Adults: a Scoping Review

Sports Med Open. 2021 Jul 19;7(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s40798-021-00344-4.


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an increasingly popular form of aerobic exercise which includes bouts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of rest. The health benefits, risks, and optimal design of HIIT are still unclear. Further, most research on HIIT has been done in young and middle-aged adults, and as such, the tolerability and effects in senior populations are less well-known. The purpose of this scoping review was to characterize HIIT research that has been done in older adults including protocols, feasibility, and safety and to identify gaps in the current knowledge. Five databases were searched with variations of the terms, "high-intensity interval training" and "older adults" for experimental or quasi-experimental studies published in or after 2009. Studies were included if they had a treatment group with a mean age of 65 years or older who did HIIT, exclusively. Of 4644 papers identified, 69 met the inclusion criteria. The average duration of training was 7.9 (7.0) weeks (mean [SD]) and protocols ranged widely. The average sample size was 47.0 (65.2) subjects (mean [SD]). Healthy populations were the most studied group (n = 30), followed by subjects with cardiovascular (n = 12) or cardiac disease (n = 9), metabolic dysfunction (n = 8), and others (n = 10). The most common primary outcomes included changes in cardiorespiratory fitness (such as VO2peak) as well as feasibility and safety of the protocols as measured by the number of participant dropouts, adverse events, and compliance rate. HIIT protocols were diverse but were generally well-tolerated and may confer many health advantages to older adults. Larger studies and more research in clinical populations most representative of older adults are needed to further evaluate the clinical effects of HIIT in these groups.

Keywords: Chronic disease; High-intensity interval training; Older adults; Seniors.

Publication types

  • Review