You will burn more calories in less time if you exercise at a higher level of intensity. Still, there are benefits to low intensity cardio. For example, low intensity cardio is less likely to lead to injury or burnout. Also, when you are done working up a sweat you will still have enough energy left in your tank to check a few other things off your to-do list instead of feeling like crashing on the couch. Best of all, you are more likely to stick with pleasant (instead of painful) exercise that you enjoy. In the long run that means you will probably burn more calories with low intensity cardio because you are more likely keep moving.

What is low intensity cardio?

Low intensity cardio is aerobic exercise that is performed at 60 to 80 % of your maximum heart rate or your target heart rate. At this level of intensity you can sustain the workout for longer periods and build endurance with time. Your target heart rate is determined by first calculating your maximum heart rate. Do this by subtracting your age from the number 220. For example, the maximum heart rate for a 35 year old is 220 – 35 or 185. The target heart rate would be 60 to 80% of 185 or 111 to 148.  Know what zone you are in by checking during exercise. Do this by feeling for your pulse along your neck or on the inside of your wrist. Count the number of beats you feel for ten seconds and multiply that number by six to get your heart rate.

Low intensity cardio exercises

Jogging, swimming, step aerobics and rowing are all good examples of low intensity cardio. If you are in the target heart rate zone you should be able to comfortably talk with your exercise partners. If you feel breathless, nauseous, weak or dizzy, you are going too fast for your current fitness level. Walk slowly for a few minutes until you cool down and catch your breath. Low intensity cardio exercise should be challenging but not so challenging that you feel ill during or after your workout.

Turn up the burn

There are ways to burn more fat and calories as a part of your low intensity cardio routine. Here are two suggestions:

Change up your routine – the human body will quickly adapt to your workout. As it adapts it will become more efficient, thus burning fewer calories even though you are doing the same workout at the same level of exertion.

  • Insert intervals – alternate low intensity cardio with short bursts of high intensity cardio. For example, if you are jogging at a 12 minute per mile pace try sprinting as fast as you can for several periods of 30-60 seconds. Be sure to recover adequately during your low cardio intervals so that you have the strength and energy to give the high cardio periods your best effort.

Ultimately, the best kind of exercise is the kind that you do regularly. You may find that one or the other level of intensity works better for you at different times. Great, just whatever you do, fast or slow – keep moving.