Why the Right Exercise Intensity Is Important for Optimal Results

Anju Mobin - Writer for Trim Down Club
By Anju Mobin
Nevena Radulović - Editor for Trim Down Club
Edited by Nevena Radulović

Published January 11, 2023.

Woman in exercise clothes holding a yoga mat and smiling while pointing up with her finger

Regular exercise increases fat loss, strengthens muscles, improves insulin sensitivity, and much more. However, how quickly you achieve these benefits is also dependent on the intensity of your workouts.

Exercise intensity determines the effort you need to put into your workout. Whether you're running, walking, or lifting weights in the gym, the intensity of the exercise indicates the level of energy and effort put into the activity within a given time frame.

When you work out at a sufficient intensity, the results are remarkable, but the appropriate exercise intensity isn't the same for everyone. It depends on many factors—your current activity levels, whether you're dealing with an injury, or if you're starting exercise once again after a long break.

Below, we'll discuss the different types of exercise intensity.

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Three Types of Exercise Intensity

Regardless of the intensity, working out is extremely beneficial to your health. Nevertheless, what's best for you in terms of exercise depends on your individual goals and needs. If you're a beginner, it's advised to start with lower-intensity workouts and allow your body to get accustomed, gradually moving on to more challenging workouts.

The right exercise intensity helps release hormones that promote your muscles’ ability to absorb amino acids, triggering muscle growth, improving muscle agility, and increasing endurance, allowing you to reach your fitness goal faster. What's more, exercising with the right intensity improves sleep quality and brain function as well as overall health.

1. Low Intensity

Low-intensity workouts like walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, yoga, and resistance training mildly raise your heart rate and keep it steady. These workouts are done at a comfortable pace, and your heart rate stays at about 50% of its maximum rate. As they're fairly slow-paced, low-intensity workouts should be continued for at least 30 minutes to get their benefits.

Although you have to do these exercises over a longer period of time to achieve the same results as with short periods of high-intensity exercise, their benefits include:

  • Improved blood flow
  • Preventing muscle wastage
  • Reducing the risk of falls or injury
  • Minimized stress on your joints.

Low-intensity exercises are ideal for older people, those with injuries and disabilities, or those recovering from severe illness or surgery.

2. Moderate Intensity

A moderate-intensity exercise like jogging, hiking, water aerobics, softball, baseball, etc. noticeably increases your heart rate, but it increases sweating and breathing much more than a low-intensity workout.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a moderate-intensity heart rate as 50–70% of your maximum heart rate. The benefits of moderate-intensity workouts are the following:

  • Raises your heart rate
  • Improves bone health
  • Helps maintain the right weight
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease.

» Fat-burning workout: see 5 easy exercises that activate fat-burning hormones

3. Vigorous Intensity

As per American Heart Association, for an activity to be vigorous, you should work at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate. The best part of vigorous exercise is that you can reap the same benefits as with moderate-intensity exercise but in less time. It gets your heart pumping, elevates your heart rate, and leaves you breathing hard.

Bicycling at more than 10 mph, running uphill, playing basketball, doing squats, water jogging, and playing single tennis are some examples of vigorous exercise.

The benefits of vigorous or strenuous exercise are the following:

  • Burns more calories than other forms of exercise
  • Jumpstarts your weight loss
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves your mood by releasing endorphins
  • Improves heart and brain health.

For the best results, it's recommended to incorporate high-intensity workouts in shorter bursts, following a model like the 7-minute workout.

» Want to burn more calories? Learn how many calories the 7-minute workout burns

Choose the Right Exercise Intensity for Optimal Results

Irrespective of intensity, regular physical activity offers numerous benefits. A simple change in lifestyle, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking the distance to the market rather than taking the car can go a long way in keeping you healthy.

Although it can sometimes leave you feeling sore, regular physical activity reduces the risk of diseases and improves cognitive performance, memory, and attention span, in addition to strengthening your muscles and promoting weight loss.

However, you'll see the best results if you align your exercise intensity with your specific needs, especially if you have a medical condition, are overweight, are over 40 years of age, or haven’t exercised regularly in a long time.

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