Although exercise methods such as high-intensity interval training and high-impact aerobics may be popular for their calorie-torching potential, low-intensity cardio has remained popular. This tried-and-true method of exercise may not be the most new or exciting way to work out, but it does offer numerous benefits that can make it an important part of anyone's exercise plan. Before you begin a workout program, consult your doctor to make sure you don't include any off-limits exercises in your routine.
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Defining Low-Intensity Cardio
To reap the benefits of low-intensity cardio, make sure what you're doing actually is low intensity. If you're used to performing sprint workouts or high-intensity cardio, you may slip into your old habits and hinder progress toward your current goals. Low-intensity cardio is performed at between 40 and 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Multiplying that number by 0.4 and 0.6 will give you the end points for your low-intensity cardio range.
Low-intensity cardio can help you drop pounds or maintain your current weight, as many forms of this type of exercise can help you burn calories. For example, walking at just 2.5 miles per hour can burn 257 calories per hour, while bicycling at a leisurely pace can burn 343 calories per hour. These calorie expenditure statistics are based on a weight of 180 pounds; if you weigh more than that amount, you will burn more calories.
Low-intensity cardiovascular exercise can be an effective method of building muscular endurance. While sprinting and high-intensity exercise can be helpful for building muscle, long sessions of low-intensity cardio are superior for muscular endurance as they provide a high number of repetitions, such as steps or cycle pedal strokes, at low resistance. This type of exercise builds muscular endurance rather than raw strength.
Low-intensity cardio can also help you control your appetite. From a psychological standpoint, you may feel less hungry and tired because you haven't exerted yourself to the point of sweating heavily and haven't lifted large amounts of weight. Research from the January 2009 edition of the "American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology" indicates that long sessions of low-intensity cardio can also influence hormone activity in a manner that blunts hunger. A study found that a 60-minute session of cardio increased the body's release of an appetite-blunting hormone and decreased the release of a hormone that promotes hunger.