Effect of high intensity interval training on functional movement in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Guy Stern*, Stelios Psycharakis, Shaun Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Preserving physiological functional capacity (PFC), the ability to perform the activities of daily life, and the ease with which they can be performed, in older adults, defined for this study as ≥ 50 years of age, is an important consideration for maintaining health and independence through the ageing process. Physical activity, and exercise training in particular, has been positively associated with improvement in PFC. In addition to improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity, promoting and preserving functional movement as a component of PFC is an important goal of physical activity, especially for older adults.

High intensity interval training (HIIT), an exercise protocol where repeated bouts of increased intensity are interspersed with active or passive recovery periods, has often been studied as an alternative to traditional moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) exercise, where a continuous intensity is maintained throughout the exercise session. A large body of research has determined that both types of exercise programme are effective for improving measures of aerobic and anaerobic fitness in older adults. However, the effect of the two exercise modalities on functional movement has most often been a secondary outcome, with a range of observational techniques applied for measurement.

Objective: The objective of this research is to systematically review and meta-analyse published studies of HIIT interventions that measured functional movement in older adults to conclude if HIIT is effective for improving functional movement. A secondary objective is to determine if there are significant differences between HIIT and MICT effect on functional movement.

Methods: A search strategy of terms locating studies of HIIT interventions, functional movement outcome measures, and older adult population samples was executed on seven digital databases. Randomized and pair matched trials of > 2 weeks were considered for inclusion. Studies of participants with neurological impairment or studies using combined exercise modality were rejected. Standardized mean difference for functional movement outcome measures were calculated. A meta-analysis of the included studies and sub-groups was performed along with study quality (risk of bias and publication bias) evaluation.

Results: A total of 18 studies were included for random effects model pooled analysis. Sub-group analysis of HIIT versus MICT on functional movement showed a trivial effect in favour of HIIT (ES 0.13, 95% CI [-0.06, 0.33] p=0.18) and did not achieve statistical significance. However, HIIT showed a medium, statistically significant favourable effect on functional movement versus non-intervention control (ES = 0.60 95% CI [0.24, 0.95] p = 0.001). Further sub-groups analysis using singular and multiple functional movement outcome measures showed similar results.

Conclusion: This meta-analysis indicates that HIIT interventions in older adults may be effective at promoting improvements in functional movement, though it is unclear whether HIIT is superior to MICT
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • high intensity interval training
  • moderate intensity continuous training
  • functional movement
  • older adults


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