High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Anxiety, Depression, and Fitness

By Dr. Paul Kelly, Updated September 2, 2023

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Anxiety, Depression, and Fitness

Why do so many women and men do HIIT workouts?

Here is a woman’s answer: Alyssa Ages says that strength training helps her to handle stress. It gives her confidence. And, it also helps her stave off the effects of aging, which means that she can keep her strength and muscle mass. Alyssa is a Toronto-based journalist and mother. Check out her Globe and Mail article or, to go deeper, have a look at her 2023 book.

I can give a man’s answer: Dr. Matt Sibbald, my Cardiologist, motivated me after my heart attack. He said: “I know you’re scared, but it is safe to exercise. Exercise will prolong your life.” I got the message. When I started high-intensity strength training the benefits astonished me. I have more energy and physical confidence. I handle stress better and my brain is working better for cognitive tasks. I am 71 now. The last time I felt this vigorous, I was a teenager carrying cement blocks on a construction site.  My big improvement came after I started to do high-intensity strength training. I go to New Element Training. They have 3 locations in Toronto. They use a mindful approach to strength training.

What Does the Science Say about HIIT Workouts?

Here are 5 tips:

  1. You don’t have to exercise for long if you exercise very vigorously.
  2. 30 minutes per week of high intensity exercise has the same fitness benefit as 150 minutes of traditional cardio.
  3. HIIT lowers heart disease risk and blood pressure. It also protects against Type 2 diabetes.
  4. HIIT also yields important mental health benefits.  It helps to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  5. HIIT also helps prevent the recurrence of anxiety and it reduces the risk of depression relapse.

Five More Recommendations for Your Personal Learning

  1. Here is a TED Talk about high-intensity exercise.
  2. Here is another resource to get you started. This website from Norway has a fitness calculator; a heart rate calculator, and instructions for a 7 week fitness program.
  3. I also recommend Dr. Martin Gibala, from McMaster University in Hamilton.  His Youtube channel is inspiring and educational.
  4. When I first started exercising I used the exercise protocols by Sean Foy.  Here is a Youtube video about his program.
  5. I got motivated to start exercising because I did not want to have another heart attack.  I have since  discovered that exercise is also a great mood booster.  That’s why I wrote a blog post about exercise as a treatment for depression.

Here are 2 Inspiring Videos about Exercise for Depression

  1. The effects of exercise on depression
  2. Depression: A Walking Prescription

A Final Thought:  If you feel overwhelmed or scared about the idea of exercising, there is still hope for you.  It is fine to start small. Even a 10 minute stroll is so much better than being sedentary.  After my heart attack I was out of shape and scared.  But, day by day I made progress.  You can too.