High intensity interval training (HIIT) may be the type of exercise that is difficult to swallow, but it truly may be the pill that fixes everything… Research now suggests that HIIT can help to improve cognitive function.

HIIT training involves exercising at a maximum intensity for a given amount of time, followed by a given amount of time for rest. For example, you may sprint as fast as you can on a bike for 1 minute, and then rest for 1 minute. Do this interval circuit 10 times and you would have completed a time-saving 20-minute HIIT workout routine. Other intervals can be used as well. For example, you may choose to perform the same workout for 20 seconds and rest for 40 seconds. This will still qualify as a HIIT workout. The key is to give 100% all-out effort. 

As far as HIIT and cognitive function, new research out of Brazil, is one of the first to assess the effect of HIIT on cognitive function.

Previously, it was assumed that high-intensity training would make one so tired that thinking or performing cognitive tasks after the workout would be impaired. Well, this small study may prove this hypothesis to be untrue.

In this study, 22 men performed sprints on a bike (as mentioned above). Another group performed low-intensity biking for comparison. At the end of the study, both groups performed a cognitive test to assess brain function.

The result — of course, the HIIT group performed the cognitive test faster than the control group, suggesting that HIIT can improve cognitive function. 

While I am excited about this study, I must say that it is no where near being conclusive. The study was small, and only short-term memory and selective attention were assessed. The study group was also limited to 22 people performing only one type of HIIT interval.

The Point

The point of this article was to further assess the effect of HIIT on cognitive function. In this small, limited study, it appears that HIIT can help to improve certain measures of brain function. While this is encouraging, more research is needed to determine the effects on other aspects of brain and psychological health and function.