Is high intensity exercise really the best way to lose weight? Here’s why HIIT doesn’t work for women over forty.

A lot of women we’ve worked with in their forties and fifties have tried HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) as a way to lose weight and tone up.

However, something we see time and time again is women doing intense cardio sessions every week to lose weight. They’re working really hard, but seeing no results in the mirror, and this can be REALLY frustrating.

These women are often doing exercises classes or fitness DVDs most days. They’re sweating buckets, but then stepping on the scales and seeing zero movement! Plus, all the jumping around often leads to sore knees, hips and backs… which can lead to long term injury. And it can be incredibly frustrating when you’re putting in all that effort, but not seeing any results in the mirror.

The reason this happens is simple; HIIT is NOT the ideal way to drop a dress size when you’re over forty.

In our most recent podcast, we explained exactly why HIIT doesn’t work to give the best results for women in their 40s and 50s. Here, we reveal the exercise plan we use with our clients to help them drop 2 dress sizes, feel AMAZING in their clothes and regain their confidence!

What is HIIT?

High intensity interval training is a period of high intensity exercises, broken up by periods of lower intensity exercise. Examples of mainstream versions of HIIT include body pump, spin classes and Joe Wicks workouts.

These methods can work really well for the right person. However, in our experience, HIIT doesn’t work very well for women in their 40s and 50s who want to lose weight.

We’re not saying it never ever works for women in their 40s or 50s. There are cases where it can work… but it’s not the easiest way to lose weight. It can actually lead to very poor results for the majority of women we work with.

In fact, we actually tried more HIIT training with clients in our programs about five years ago. However, the results people saw were worse! They actually saw less weight loss and more injuries. But, why?

Why HIIT doesn’t work for women over forty

Ultimately, HIIT spikes cortisol levels which can block weight loss in women. With women’s bodies changing with age, and not just due to menopause, the way the body deals with stress changes. This has a knock on effect elsewhere.

In short, stress spikes the hormone cortisol (this is often called the stress response). This can be good in short spurts, but has negative consequences if high for long periods of time. This leads to:

  • Leptin resistance, which causes increased cravings, especially for comfort foods.
  • Insulin resistance, which makes it harder to lose weight, especially from around the middle.
  • Thyroid deregulation, leading to a slower metabolism.

This stress response increases with age, so the amount of stress the body can handle reduces over time before these problems occur. What’s more… for women, this stress response increases three times more with age than for men!

HIIT training puts a lot of stress on the body, which can make it much harder to lose weight, especially when your life is already pretty stressful.

The majority of women we work with inside our Fit Over 40 program have a stressful, high-pressure job. They have the responsibility of looking after the family too. Adding HIIT training on top of that is going to mean you’re flooding the body with stress 24/7. And, as a result, weight loss is going to be much harder.

If you’re going through menopause, this effect will be even more significant.

Do exercise which keeps stress low to moderate

HIIT is incredibly hard on the joints. Many exercises involve jumping up and down, or doing dynamic movements like jump squats, burpees and tuck jumps.

For anyone, this is always going to carry a higher risk of injury than slow, controlled exercises. For women over 40 in particular, who may already be dealing with joint issues, high impact exercises carry an even greater risk of injury.

The problem with getting injured is that it puts the brakes on your fitness plan, and therefore your results! Not only that, but if you injure your lower body, you may have to reduce your overall activity level. This means you’ll use less calories throughout the day and be more likely to gain weight if you eat too much.

Impacting your joints

HIIT is especially hard if you’re carrying extra weight. This is because that weight is multiplied during high impact movements. When doing jumping movements, you put 2.5-4.5 times your body weight through the knees.

So, for example, if you weigh 75kg, you’re putting 190-330kg through each of your knees every time you jump! If you already have pain in your hips, knees or other areas of the body, this will then accelerate that further. If you’re carrying a bit of extra weight, you also don’t want to be fighting that weight all the time!

HIIT uses a lot of body weight exercises. This is great if you’re already lean and light, but demoralising if you’re not there yet! This puts most people off exercising in this way, and if you can’t stay consistent… then you won’t see results. Consistency is key!

So, what’s the solution?

Do a type of exercise which is slow, controlled and kind to your joints. Do something that’s appropriate for your weight, and that isn’t a total slog, so you actually enjoy it and can stay consistent!

At the end of the day, we recommend you do the right type of exercise for you.

HIIT doesn’t work, and high-impact cardio, like running, puts a lot of stress on the body and your joints. This is fine if your life is very relaxed and easy. However, after turning forty, it’s very important to keep stress levels under control if you want to lose weight.

Therefore it’s better to focus on an exercise style which will still get good results, but that does it without spiking stress hormone levels too high…

Focus on low-impact strength training

Low-impact strength training (LIST training) involves lifting weights in a controlled manner. This still burns plenty of calories, like other forms of exercise, but it also has a number of added benefits!

It keeps stress hormone levels low, so that your body is kept in a state where it’s easier to lose weight. It increases your muscle mass too, which means you’ll feel firm and toned, as well as increasing your metabolism!

Additionally, this exercise style helps to increase your bone density, which helps to combat osteoporosis. Doing this 3-4 times per week consistently is the key to seeing amazing results in the mirror for women in their 40s and 50s!

We do this for clients inside our Fit Over 40 program and they typically lose 1-2 stone every 12 weeks!

If you’re interested in finding a long-term, sustainable diet designed for women over 40, you can find out more about working with us here!

Snacks to lose weight