What exercise intensity is best : high intensity vs low intensity exercise

As you have probably gathered, I’m a total health geek.  I need to know the reasons behind EVERYTHING I look at health…

Over the years I picked up what info I could, then leant heaps about the psychosocial health bits through university, then the science behind exercise by training as a fit pro.

I see one thing that keeps coming up.. People wonder what intensity they should exercise at.  Is better to aim for higher or lower intensity exercise?  People wish to know what is the best exercise to burn the most calories.

This is especially relevant if you are new to exercise, you are looking for the best exercise if you are overweight, or you have been told to exercise by your medic.

The answer depends on your goals, and what suits you and your body..

The exercise comparison

You burn more fat during longer lower intensity exercise (you are in the fat burning zone.)  BUT you have to exercise for a longer time.  (Think of going for a half hour walk).  Plus with lower intensity exercise, you need to exercise for somewhere between 10- 15 mins before you get the fat burning effect.

You burn more glycogen from your carbohydrate stores in high intensity exercise.  High intensity workouts burn more energy in a shorter time.  Also, with high intensity exercise, there is some evidence of an afterburn effect – you keep burning more energy after you finish exercising.

If you just have a short amount of time to exercise,  you will burn the same amount of calories quicker with high intensity over lower intensity exercise.

So which exercise intensity is best for me?

Overall, I am a fan of lower intensity exercise.  Lower intensity is what I always went for with my customers when I coached them.   As my customers will have heard me say many times…   Chat, chat, chat as you go, as this gives me an indication of where you heart rate is.. If you can chat away while you exercise, at a guess, your heart rate is probably about 60-70% of your max, which is where you want it to be in low intensity exercise.

I have a tendency to injure myself a lot, more so with fast, explosive high intensity moves!  So lower intensity exercise is kinder to older, sore bodies like mine.  For the same reasons, if you are wondering how to start exercising when you are overweight, I’d say lower intensity exercise. At first at least. It’s kinder to heavier frames.

But you should go for whatever intensity suits you – your body, your preferred type of exercise, in the time you have available.. The important thing is that you enjoy it.

Just PLEASE warm up and cool down to avoid injury!  As I think I’m getting everyone’s aches and pains by proxy…  X


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Ann, The Beginners Coach
Outer Hebrides, Scotland