Traditionally, health organizations have recommended longer, steady aerobic activities to improve cardiovascular health. Research has certainly backed up their recommendations, cementing that aerobic exercise is linked with cardiovascular health. However, recent studies suggest that extremely short bouts of exercise can be just as beneficial, as long as they're done at a high intensity.
With short duration, high-intensity exercise providing the same level of health benefits as constant, moderate-intensity cardio, it can be confusing to figure out which one is best. It's important to know that both types of activities can help you reach your fitness goals, so you can choose the one that best aligns with your preferences and schedule.
Extended Low to Moderate-Intensity Cardio: Guidelines and Benefits
Low to moderate intensity cardio exercise involves participating in a steady physical activity at an intensity of 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Your heart and breathing rates elevate, but at an intensity that heart, lungs, circulatory system and muscles can sustain for a longer period of time. Typical types of cardio exercises include jogging, swimming, biking, walking, or cycling on a stationary bike or elliptical machine.
Research has shown that regularly participating in low to moderate-intensity cardio is effective at improving blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat percentage, exercise tolerance and insulin sensitivity. These effects reduce the risk of obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and arthritis.
Both the American Heart Association and the and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults perform at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes per week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes. These recommendations, they claim, are ideal for those interested in improving overall cardiovascular health.
Extended low to moderate-intensity cardio is an ideal option if you're looking to develop your cardiovascular health while working at a lower intensity. Not everyone enjoys or has the capacity to exercise at a high intensity, and that's okay. Brisk walking for 30 minutes is an activity that most feel comfortable doing. In addition, a work out can be an opportunity for you to take a break from the stresses of life. Cardio sessions give your at least 30 minutes where you don't have to worry about any responsibilities or obligations.
Short Bouts of High-Intensity Exercise: Methods and Benefits
High-intensity interval exercise involves working in really short bursts of extremely high intensity. Rather than 30 minutes like in a traditional cardio session, workouts can take as little as 10 minutes. After a warm-up period, for 10 to 30 seconds you exert yourself at an intensity that elevates your heart rate to 85 to 95 percent of its maximum rate, and then follow that bout by exercising at a very low intensity for the next one to two minutes. Think sprinting full speed for 10 to 30 seconds, followed by two minutes of slow walking. Continue this pattern until you've completed at least 10 minutes of total exercise.
Sprinting or jumping rope are typical types of exercises used in high-intensity. Cardio machines, like a stationary bike or elliptical machine, can be used provided you cycle at a near all-out intensity.
Surprisingly, despite exercise duration being significantly shorter, high-intensity intervals have shown to be just as effective for developing cardiovascular health. For example, a recent study found that as little as 60 seconds of strenuous exercise offered the same health and fitness benefits as 45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio. Twenty-second high-intensity bouts performed three times with two-minute low-intensity periods in between gave exercisers the same level of endurance, insulin resistance, calorie burning, and cardiovascular fitness benefits.
High-intensity intervals are ideal if you're an athlete and need to incorporate both endurance and interval training into your workout regimen. They're also great if you have a busy schedule and simply don't have 30 minutes to work out. Science has shown that you can get big benefits with just a couple minutes of exercise.