HIITing the brain with exercise; mechanisms, consequences and practical recommendations

Thomas A. Calverley, Shigehiko Ogoh, Christopher J. Marley, Martin Steggall, Nicola Marchi, Patrice Brassard, Samuel J.E. Lucas, James D. Cotter, Marc Roig, Philip N. Ainslie, Ulrik Wisløff, Damian M. Bailey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The increasing number of older adults has seen a corresponding growth in those affected by neurovascular diseases, including stroke and dementia. Since cures are currently unavailable, major efforts in improving brain health need to focus on prevention, with emphasis on modifiable risk factors such as promoting physical activity. Moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) paradigms have been shown to confer vascular benefits translating into improved musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary and cerebrovascular function. However, the time-commitment associated with MICT is a potential barrier to participation, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has since emerged as a more time-efficient mode of exercise that can promote similar if not indeed superior improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness for a given training volume and further promote vascular adaptation. However, randomised control trials (RCTs) investigating the impact of HIIT on the brain are surprisingly limited. The present review outlines how the HIIT paradigm has evolved from a historical perspective and describes the established physiological changes including its mechanistic bases. Given the dearth of RCTs, the vascular benefits of MICT are discussed with a focus on the translational neuroprotective benefits including their mechanistic bases that could be further potentiated through HIIT. Safety implications are highlighted and components of an optimal HIIT intervention are discussed including practical recommendations. Finally, statistical effect sizes have been calculated to allow prospective research to be appropriately powered and optimise the potential for detecting treatment effects. Future RCTs that focus on the potential clinical benefits of HIIT are encouraged given the prevalence of cognitive decline in an ever-ageing population. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2513-2530
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number13
Early online date29 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


  • cerebrovascular function
  • cognition
  • dementia
  • high-intensity interval training
  • neuroprotection


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