Surprise! Low-Intensity Workouts May Not Be Best for Burning Fat

man and woman doing a rope exercise - low intensity exercise fat burning zone

Exercise is a great way to help you lose weight while offering many other health advantages. But what type of exercise is best for you? If you’re like many people, you may be looking to shed some pounds. And naturally, you want to target those pesky parts of your body where you gain weight first and lose it last. Therefore, you want a workout program that helps you lose weight in those areas.

But what type of exercise is the best to accomplish these goals? For years, you have likely heard that low-intensity workouts are best for fat burning. But is this actually true? Do low-intensity workouts help you burn fat faster or better than high-intensity ones? As in most instances, the devil’s in the details. In order to accurately answer this question, you need to appreciate how your body burns calories. It may be that your best “fat-burning zone” is not the low-intensity workouts you have always heard about.

Fat Burning Zones and Your Maximum Heart Rate

On nearly every piece of exercise equipment, the best fat-burning zone is determined by your heart rate. This zone is typically defined at about 55 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. Though your maximum heart rate varies with gender and age, this type of workout is considered a low-intensity workout. And when in this fat-burning zone, about 70 percent of your calories come from fat. At first glance, this sounds pretty straightforward.

However, did you know when you are at rest, about 85 percent of your calories come from fat? And even during high-intensity workouts, about half your calories come from fat. Therefore, low-intensity workouts do not put you in the highest fat-burning zone based on percentage. And they may not burn the greatest amount of calories when compared to high-intensity workouts depending on duration. Appreciating this fact is important when you’re trying your best to lose excess fatty tissue.

It’s Not Just About Intensity – It’s About Duration and Simple Math!

So what’s best for you when it comes to losing weight? Will low-intensity workouts place you in the best fat-burning zone or not? That all depends on the length of your workouts. Let’s compare a low-intensity workout to a high-intensity one. If all things are otherwise equal, you will burn more calories when performing higher-intensity activities. But if you perform a low-intensity workout twice as long, that might be a better fat-burning option.

Let’s demonstrate this with some simple calculations. Suppose you choose to run on the treadmill at a moderate pace for 30 minutes. In all likelihood, you will burn around 300 calories or more. At this level of intensity, half the calories burned will come from fat with the rest from carbs. So of the 300 calories, you will burn 150 fat calories. Now, suppose you walk for the same amount of time. This low-intensity workout will likely only burn 100 calories with 70 percent (at most) coming from fat. In other words, you will burn only 70 calories. Thus, for the same amount of time, the low-intensity workout burns less fat than the high-intensity one.

Will the Real Fat Burning Zone Please Stand Up?

When it comes to losing weight, and getting rid of fatty tissue, calories still matter. This relates to dieting and to exercise. Your body will burn a higher percentage of fat when at low-intensity exercise activities. But that does not mean it is burning more fat calories overall. In fact, because most of us exercise a set amount of time, high-intensity workouts will burn more fat calories than low-intensity ones. Therefore, your best fat-burning zone will often be when you are giving it your all.

Having said this, that does not mean all your workouts should be high-intensity. Instead, a variety of high- and low-intensity workouts is ideal. This variety will keep your motivation for exercise high while allowing your body to recover. And it will allow you plenty of time in your highest fat-burning zone to help you lose weight. By mixing up your levels of exercise intensity, you will be more likely to stick with your workout program longer. And ultimately, this will help you best reach your weight-loss goals.

To learn more about Dawna visit DawnaStone.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

About the Author

Dawna is a mom of two young kids, puppy lover, ice cream lover, chocolate lover, and lover of any ice cream with chunks of chocolate in it. She is the author of seven books, a business owner, certified health coach, motivational speaker, and creator of the 5-Day Detox and the 14-Day Clean-Eating Program. Dawna appears regularly on local and national television. She has appeared on the Today show, Martha, MSNBC, HSN, and morning news programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. Dawna is a highly sought-after speaker and has done speaking engagements for Chobani, Disney, American Heart Association, Mass Mutual, Wharton Business School, Women’s Entertainment Television, PGA Tour, Super Bowl Leadership Forum, Susan G. Komen, and many more.
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