Hard Workouts or Light Workouts: Which One Offers More Benefits to Your Health?

A woman flipping a tire in a hard workout

The conversation about the benefits of vigorous versus lighter intensity workouts has been ongoing for some time. Exercise enthusiasts love the adrenaline rush of a hard workout and the satisfaction it brings. But at the same time, light workouts also have some advantages, especially when compared to sedentary activity. Not only that, experts recognize there are times you should avoid more strenuous activities that get your heart pounding. Therefore, it’s worth digging a little deeper to determine which workout is best and when.

Fortunately, we now live in a world of accelerometers, sports watches, and Fitbit devices that provide enormous amounts of information. Researchers have a much easier time today collecting health data. As a result, it is becoming simpler to determine the benefits of both hard workouts and light workouts. This is important considering that more people are dealing with chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And given the degree of stress we’re under globally with the pandemic, the timing couldn’t be better.

What’s the Difference Between Hard Workouts and Light Ones?

Before we can talk about the benefits of each type of workout, we must first define them. Hard workouts are often described as vigorous exercise. In general, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association recommend a certain amount of vigorous exercise per week. Each of us is encouraged to get between 75 and 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week. This means the activity should target about 70-85% of our maximum heart rate. We should also have a hard time having a conversation then as well. Mostly commonly, hard workouts involve activities like running, cycling, tennis, swimming, and more strenuous sports.

A woman doing a very light workout
Not every workout should be a hard workout – light workouts have benefits as well.

Light workouts, on the other hand, are much less energy intensive. Though they still involve movement and a slight increase in heart rate, they are not nearly as strenuous. During this type of exercise, you’ll be able to hold a conversation and perhaps not even break a sweat. Light workouts might include walking around the neighborhood. They also often include activities like yoga, stretching, and even some forms of meditation. The important point to make is that light activity exercises are not sedentary. Instead, they involve some type of movement that isn’t quite so intense or exhausting.

The Perks of Hard Workouts

Without question, the sports enthusiasts are onto something. There are several benefits to hard workouts, which is why a certain amount of these exercises are recommended each week. For one, it has been well recognized for years that high intensity workouts are greater for aerobic and cardiovascular health. Exercising at a higher intensity trains your body to utilize oxygen more efficiently. This means your circulation will improve, and your muscle and tissues will use oxygen better. This is a benefit everyone can benefit from whether you’re an athlete or not.

(For more on health, and the Seven Pillars of a Bold Life, check out Ed Kopko’s PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.)

Of course, these are not the only benefits of hard workouts. Vigorous exercise is known to reduce cholesterol levels, which further lowers heart disease risk. Also, intense exercise lowers blood pressure and improves your bone health. Research is also showing that vigorous exercise improves clarity of thinking, memory and our mood as well. These broad health benefits from a more intense exercise routinely are hard to argue with. And it’s a major reason they are strongly encouraged for all age groups.

The Advantages of Light Workouts

It’s hard to argue with the benefits of hard workouts. However, light workouts have their own advantages. For one, research has shown that being active doing light activity is much better than being sedentary. In a recent study, those engaged in light exercise had a 62% lower mortality risk than sedentary people. These benefits increased steadily up to five hours of light activity per day. There are several reasons for this, but an important one is the type of energy light activity burns. While hard workouts burn glucose more during exercise, light workouts burn fat. Therefore, light exercise can be great for weight loss and avoiding obesity.

Light workouts have also been shown to be helpful before retiring for the evening. While hard workouts release adrenaline and raise our core temperature, light activity doesn’t. Experts therefore suggest that vigorous exercise should be avoided 1-2 hours before bedtime. But lighter exercise may actually improve our sleep abilities. Stretching, performing yoga, and meditation have been shown to help us fall asleep faster. At the same time, sleep efficiency (the amount of sleep you get while in bed) is also improved. The relaxation effects of light activity thus offer health benefits that hard workouts cannot.

The Bottom Line – Which Type of Workout Is Best?

As you might have guessed, both hard workouts and light workouts play an important role in our overall wellness. One challenges us to perform, which has notable physical, mental and even emotional advantages. The other allows us to relax, sleep more effectively, and yet still boost our metabolism throughout the day. Both types of exercise are therefore important because they bring different value to the table. Therefore, it’s important to consider each in your weekly activities to ensure you are being as healthy as possible.

Just as researchers now monitor activity levels among study participants with fitness trackers, we too can use these same devices. The feedback this offers not only lets us track our achievements. They also provide feedback that helps maintain a high level of motivation. This is important when trying to adopt new exercise habits because seeing is believing! But even if fitness trackers aren’t your thing, a balanced exercise approach should be. Both hard and light workouts alike are important in maximizing your health and wellness. And therefore, making time for both is essential.

About the Author

Through timely and thoughtful articles, the book Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success, and other media, we deliver engaging content that educates, motivates and inspires you to live a Bold Life.
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