Tabata, HIIT, kettlebells, CrossFit … sure, tough workouts are hogging all the headlines these days, but that doesn't mean you should completely ditch moderate-intensity exercise. In fact, here are seven good reasons you should be doing moderate- to low-intensity exercise more often.
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1. You May Live Longer
Research shows that moderate exercise could be the key to living longer. According to the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study performed by Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, runners who moved at a moderate intensity (about 10-minute miles) had a lower mortality risk than those who ran more than 20 miles a week at a much faster pace (7 miles an hour or faster). Another study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study, found that runners who logged in one to two and a half hours per week jogging at a slow or average pace had longer life spans than both their sedentary counterparts and the faster runners.
2. You’ll Reduce Your Risk of Injury
Training at an all-out effort all the time may wear down your body faster, and at the very least, deplete your energy, making the likelihood of an injury more likely during a workout. "American College of Sports Medicine guidelines recommend that individuals aim for at least 3-5 days per week of a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise; and they also state that vigorous-intensity exercise performed more than five days per week may increase the incidence of injury to generally this amount of physically is not recommended," says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
3. You Might Enjoy Exercising More
If you've been struggling to stick with a regular exercise routine, too much intensity could be to blame. Exercise intensity can affect adherence, Matthews says. "Some individuals may find higher intensity exercise to be more uncomfortable and less enjoyable, which may lead to a less than consistent routine of physical activity," she notes. Mixing up your routine to include both higher and lower effort levels can make your workouts more fun, energizing, effective and easier to stick with, she says.
4. You’ll Perform Better With the Tough Stuff
Just as there can be no hills without valleys, lower intensity training helps to prep your body for the bigger 'peaks' challenging workouts can bring. "Moderate intensity cardio sessions serve to prepare you to better tackle your HIIT workouts so that you have the baseline cardio fitness and active recovery necessary to make your HIIT sessions more effective in the long run," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Alabama.
5. You May Eat Less
If you're trying to lose weight and are guilty of falling into the "I burned it, I earned it," trap, you may want to try adding more moderate activity to your routine. Lower intensity workouts could prevent you from feeling like you "earned" that brownie after dinner, and make you less likely to consume all the calories you burned off at the gym in just a few bites. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that female subjects ate more during their post-workout meal after a high-intensity session versus those who performed lower intensity exercise. It may also help curb cravings, too: A separate study done by researchers at Brigham Young University found that women who completed a 45-minute moderate-intensity workout were less tempted by photos of food afterward.
6. You’ll Sleep More Soundly
Having trouble falling asleep at a reasonable hour? It could be that hardcore spinning class you took this evening. Some individuals find that taxing exercise actually hinders their ability to fall asleep, while low to moderate exercise improves sleep quality. "Moderate exercise is not so strenuous that your adrenaline runs high keeping you amped up when it's time to nod off. Also, it helps to wake you up during the day so you are ready for rest in the evening but not wiped out and sore you can't relax," explains Olson.
7. You’ll Improve Your Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
Most types of exercise can help lower blood sugar levels, and help your body process insulin more effectively, but moderate intensity may offer the best benefits. One study of people with overweight and diabetes found that the group that rode a stationary bike for an hour at a moderate pace lowered their blood sugar levels by as much as 50 percent in the following 24 hours while subjects who pedaled at a higher intensity for 30 minutes only lowered levels by about 19 percent. "Moderate-intensity exercise uses up excess blood sugar for energy which helps your insulin to not shoot up or down during the day; it's best for those who are even pre-diabetic," Olson says.
So How Often Should I Work Out?
Convinced yet? Good! While moderate exercise offers some pretty excellent benefits, you certainly don't have to give up your challenging workouts altogether -- the key is finding a good balance of both. Olson recommends at least three days a week (approximately 30 minutes) of moderate intensity, steady-state exercise alternated with 1-2 days of higher intensity activities.
Low to Moderate Activity Ideas
Low-intensity exercise is movement you can do comfortably, with almost no change in your breathing or conversational ability (such as stroll around the block), while moderate intensity may elevate your breathing rate, but shouldn't affect your ability to talk without too much (you can still recite the alphabet, for instance). Using these ranges to help gauge your intensity, almost any type of activity that allows to stay within this specific "talk test" range can be considered low to moderate intensity. Need some ideas of moderate-intensity exercises to try? Read on!
Doing the dishes, mopping the floor, vacuuming the house, washing the car, and many other chores can count as low- to moderate-intensity exercise.
Jogging or Walking
Jogging or walking at an easy to moderate pace (for as long as you can still hold a conversation comfortably) can be considered moderate- to low-intensity exercise.
Many traditional strength-training workouts can be considered moderate exercise (circuit training and powerlifting however, are more intense).
Swimming at a recreational pace (not doing laps) can be considered moderate to low-intensity exercise and offers the added benefit of being extra gentle on the joints too.
Yoga or Pilates
While the intensity level depends greatly on the style of yoga, many forms of yoga (such as Restorative, Iyengar or Ananda) fall into the low to moderate intensity category. However, the more active, faster paced styles of Ashtanga, Bikram or Vinyasa yoga, for instance, would not.
- Reynolds, Gretchen. Moderation as the Exercise Sweet Spot. The NY Times
- Effects of exercise intensity on food intake and appetite in women. Am J Clin Nutr November 2004 vol. 80 no. 5 1230-1236.
- Foster, Carl and Porcari, John. ACE-Sponsored Research: Validating the Talk Test As a Measure Of Exercise Intensity.