HIIT vs Cardio – What You Need to Know

It’s the holy grail of life.

Losing weight, shedding fat, getting lean, jumping on that constant roller coaster of health, getting back on track, starting a new diet, getting in shape. The yo-yo effect of ‘health’ rather than creating an active sustainable lifestyle is the missing link.

And there are many reasons you can consider as to why you are constantly struggling to maintain your health and ideal physical condition. At the end of the day, losing weight means you have to cut down more calories than what you consume. And an essential element of an active lifestyle is exactly that. Be active!

Let’s investigate a couple of common myths, where the fitness industry in recently has literally jumped all over High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and also dubbed the ‘death of cardio’. Which is just nonsense. There is more to consider than just burning calories and the physical aspect of exercise and I will share a few ways of getting your lower-intensity work in without you even knowing it.

Low Intensity (LIT) Vs High Intensity (HIIT)

Two of the safest ways to strengthen the cardiovascular system are through the (1) steady-state cardio programs (cardio) and (2) high-intensity interval training (HIIT). They are versatile, convenient, and challenging exercises that can be done virtually with minimal equipment required. But these two employ different training styles and training intensities.

The lower intensity is simple to do and includes any type of extended-duration exercise which is maintained at a steady and manageable pace. Working at 60% to 65% of your maximum heart rate (MHR), which lasts for 20 minutes or longer. Ideally, you need to be including 3 sessions per week, for a minimum of 60 minutes for optimal conditioning and fat loss results. It targets the heart rate to achieve 110 to 120 beats per minute. The activities involved are aerobic or need oxygen to use the stored fat.

Sure, it can get boring. So be creative and find ways to make it more productive. Managing stress, listening to podcasts, and music, and walking with friends, family or coworkers are all simple suggestions that can increase your engagement with your exercise and build a long-term active lifestyle.

Calorie for calorie, minute for minute, might look something like this.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the 2 types of training, review the benefits and where to add each type of training into your weekly plan.

Low-intensity Training

For your fitness goals designed for weight loss, the low-intensity steady state (LISS) or Low Intensity Training (LIT) still comes up trumps for caloric expenditure. When you engage in walking, it burns a higher fat percentage per calorie compared to higher-intensity training, is more sustainable, and comes with less risk of injury. To metabolize or break down fat, it needs oxygen to convert it to energy. When the body is in a faster motion like when you are running, it uses another source of energy such as carbohydrates. Dr. Kostas Papadopoulos, MD, Ph.D. in Endocrinology and Immunology is probably one of the best-known experts in the field. Not just a Doctor, Dr. Kostas is a living proactive expert in health and fitness and optimizing life extension through genetic-based lifestyle design. “It’s the one element that makes the difference. Without the base, there is no building on capacity. The key is a balance, and not neglecting your baseline”.

Determine exactly what is Low intensity training. When it comes to exercise, most will consider exercise is what would be considered ‘structured’ or a workout of some type. When it comes to LIT, it really doesn’t matter what you are doing, as long as you are maintaining your ideal heart rate zone for extended periods of time. You could be foam rolling, playing with your kids, simply walking, stretching, yoga, mobility drills, playing golf, cycling, trekking, blading, rowing, paddling – as they say, ‘pick your poison’. Just move!

Key benefits of Low Intensity Training (LIT):
• Improve cardio health and fitness
• More efficient heart and heart health
• Reduces resting heart rate and blood pressure
• Fast recovery
• Reduce risk of injuries
• Improved sleep patterns
• Manages stress and anxiety
• Improves mood and confidence
• Easier to sustain for the long term
• Improve the parasympathetic system
• Appetite control and potential suppression

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is more complex and intense. The physical activities target 80% to 90% of your maximum capacity for a short period of time with shorter periods of rest and recovery and the cycle is repeated many times as desired. The physical activities are anaerobic. They depend heavily on stored carbohydrates rather than oxygen. With HIIT, you will definitely be breathing through your lungs hard, and pushing new levels of fitness and conditioning, which will also require a strong mindset. HIIT, therefore, is usually less sustainable for most people over the long term unless fitness becomes a passion and lifestyle.

HIIT does come at a price though. Mentally fatiguing, scary and not motivating for most, it’s the reason why many drop out and stop exercising. It’s just too tough. Too much too soon, and altogether too much. People get tired of it, resenting the workout they need to do, and therefore simply, stop exercising. So use it in moderation. 2 times per week is plenty.

Even if you are just starting out, take it easy, be progressive and build up to high intensity levels. And keep these benefits in mind also.

Benefits of HIIT:
• Time efficient
• Increase maximum heart rate
• Facilitate recovery
• Increase hormone release
• Manage blood sugar levels
• Improve insulin sensitivity
• Manage blood cholesterol
• Endorphin and dopamine release
• Increased metabolism
• Life extension
• Repair DNA

The goal of this article isn’t to determine which method is best, it is to share the facts that both modalities are different and unique, and both serve to achieve different results. Both have specific adaptations and benefits, and both should be included in your weekly training plan, regardless of the goal. Your motivation and desire to work out are key so work within your current fitness levels and motivation to determine the best methods and frequency of each you really WANT to do.

Keep in mind also, that you need to ENJOY being active, this is the priority number what. What you enjoy will continue, and the ultimate objective is doing what you can be consistent with for a lifetime!

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