Updated: May 23
I get asked this question a lot.
While there is no one answer to this question, the short answer is a little bit of everything. The American Heart Association recommends that adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days a week (a total of 150 minutes), or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days a week (a total of 75 minutes a week) and to engage in high intensity cardiorespiratory exercise and muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days a week.
Let's talk about moderate intensity vs. vigorous intensity exercise (also know as high intensity).
Here's the deal, cardiorespiratory exercise is essential in supporting heart health. And not surprisingly, each type of exercise plays an important role in your health and fitness. The key is to start where you are and gradually build up from there. When beginning any exercise program it is important to consider your abilities and your goals.
Whether you want to improve your endurance in order to better enjoy activities such as hiking or biking, or your goal is to make it up the stairs without joint pain and feeling winded, elements of both moderate and high intensity exercise can help get you there.
To better understand why, let's explore the benefits and considerations of each style of fitness training.
Moderate Intensity Exercise
This is any aerobic or cardiorespiratory activity that is performed for 30 to 60 minutes at a consistent level of intensity. Examples of this might include biking, jogging, long walks, rowing, or using machines such as the elliptical, recumbent bike or stair climber. This type of training can also be especially helpful for individuals participating in activities such as long distance running, cycling, swimming and rowing by improving overall endurance and cardiorespiratory ability. For the average person, this type of exercise presents reduced risk for beginners, needs less recovery time, and can often be performed more regularly.
Benefits of moderate intensity exercise include:
Boosts aerobic endurance
Supports heart health
Good for beginners
Needs less recovery time
Low risk for less active lifestyles
Provides calorie burn relative to the output (low to moderate)
Uses less energy
Can be performed more frequently, up to 5 days a week
Higher level of retention when choosing an activity you enjoy
Increased risk of overuse injuries through repetitive motions
Can take longer to achieve weight loss goals
Minimal (if any) “after burn” effects
Working at too low of an intensity level will not build endurance and challenges fat loss
Greater risk of hitting a fitness plateau through adaptation
High Intensity Exercise
High intenisty exercise, often referred to as high intensity interval training (HIIT), typically includes physical activities that are broken into segments of high intensity bursts followed by a lower intensity recovery period. An example of this might be a 30 second all out sprint followed by a 1 minute jog (or fast paced walk). This type of interval training is also easy to incorporate with strength training routines, for example, doing a series of 3 strength training exercises followed by 30 seconds of squat jumps or box jumps. High intensity training is especially great for individuals who play or compete in a sports such as football, baseball, soccer or short distance track events by helping them to improve overall strength, speed and agility. For the average person, this type of exercise is key to promoting fat loss and building muscle while improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
Benefits of high intensity exercise include:
Achieve higher calorie burn in less time
Muscles use fat as fuel
Improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness
Promotes abdominal fat loss while building muscle mass
Supports heart health
Boosts strength and speed
Enhances overall fitness performance
“After burn” effect supports increased calorie burn for up to 36 hours post exercise
Requires greater recovery time
Recommend limiting sessions to 2-3x a week (and just once a week for beginners)
Uses a high amount of energy from multiple muscle groups at once
More challenging for beginners
Not ideal for individuals who suffer from join, heart or respiratory problems
Bottom line - there are benefits and considerations for both moderate and high intensity exercise. When engaging in either, it is important that the activity be tailored to the individual's fitness level and abilities. Most people will benefit from doing both moderate and higher intensity exercise when it comes to supporting their overall health and fitness. In select cases, higher intensity exercise should be avoided, such as for those who suffer from chronic join pain, heart conditions or respiratory conditions. Whether you are new to fitness or more seasoned, it is important to listen to your body. Know when it is appropriate to take rest days, reduce the intensity level, or duration of a particular activity in order to support both a safe and effective workout. If you're not sure where to start, hiring a personal trainer can be a great way to help you create a fitness plan that is appropriate for you by demonstrating and correcting form as you build a healthy foundation.
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