Guest Post by: Rene Daniel
High-intensity workouts are all the rage these days, especially when they are a part of interval training. The Cross-Fit mania currently sweeping the nation is a prime example of this. Of course, that old standby, traditional low-intensity exercise, has never gone out of style either.
All this has left many people asking: which is better for me? Trendy high-intensity or staid low-intensity? So let’s talk a look at what each involves so you can select the best fit for your exercise needs.
What Is High-Intensity Exercise?
High-intensity exercise is all about keeping your heart rate high, lots of sweating, and rapid breathing. It generally involves short bursts of intense exertion, which is conducive to burning fat and calories and building lean muscle. Think aerobics classes, circuit training and sprinting. Part of its popularity is that it need not involve joining a gym, any kind of high-end equipment or hours spent lifting weights.
When practiced as part of interval training–in which an intense burst of physical exercise – like fast pedaling on a stationary bike – is alternated with a slightly longer, less intense exercise (i.e., slower pedaling)–it has had especially excellent results for melting fat and putting on lean muscle. (Check out this great piece in The New York Times, which breaks down the benefits of interval training in depth.)
So considering the simplicity and limited time commitment required, we all should be going the high-intensity workout route, right? Well, not so fast.
What Is Low-Intensity Exercise?
Low-intensity exercise includes walking, swimming or riding a bike. Low-intensity is less focused on muscle building and intense calorie burning and more on brain health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases, and increasing overall longevity. It’s been shown to reduce hyperglycemia in those who suffer from diabetes and even stimulates new tissue growth in the brain.
Low-intensity exercise is simple to do (though it does require more of a time commitment than high-interval training), which makes it especially beneficial for people with chronic health conditions (such as obesity or a serious heart condition) or those who have no experience working out. In short, pretty much anyone can engage in some kind of low-intensity exercise and reap benefits.
So What Are You Looking For?
When considering low-intensity versus high-intensity, it all comes down to you. Are you looking to burn calories and ready for the intensity of high-interval? Go for it! Maybe you want to lose weight, but like the ease of a long walk or moderate bicycle ride? Well then, low-intensity is the way to go. Perhaps you are someone who’s been lifting weights at the gym for years, your body has “plateaued,” and you are no longer getting the results you used to.
High-intensity interval training (also known as intermittent training by the way) will shake things up and likely give you excellent results. Are you pregnant but still want to stay in shape? You cannot beat the benefits and low risks of a low-intensity routine (which, it should be noted, includes the pregnant-friendly yoga).
So it all comes down to you: who you are, what you want, what your current overall health is and how much time you’re willing to commit. An important note is diet: whatever route you choose for working out and staying in shape, what you put into your body is just as important as what you do with your body. A diet low in cholesterol and rich in fruits and vegetables is essential for your health and will maximize the benefits of your workout.
Rene D. Daniel is a freelance blogger who has been writing about fitness and nutrition for nearly 10 years. A martial arts enthusiast, he spends a lot of his free time practicing Krav Maga in Los Angeles.