High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all the rage these days, but is it really any better than traditional cardio?
While it may churn through body fat at a faster rate, research also shows it's less enjoyable, with poor adherence rates for those trying to lose weight.
The best exercise is the one you do consistently and stick to long-term. Enter Lower Intensity Steady State cardio, or LISS for short. This is basically the opposite of HIIT and is defined as exercise that elevates your heart rate to 40 - 50 per cent of your estimated max (calculated by 220 - age), or exercise at a level where you can talk and sing comfortably.
Belting out your favourite tunes while you exercise is definitely a bonus, but there are many circumstances where LISS is actually better for you.
Here are four reasons why you should opt for a lower intensity workout:
YOU'RE JUST STARTING OUT
If you're new to fitness, it's important to gradually build up your exercise regimen to let your body adjust. Going too hard too soon can increase your risk of injury, such as stress fractures, muscle strains, inflamed tendons, and plantar fasciitis.
Bypass the bootcamps for now and focus on building a base of fitness instead by accumulating at least 30 minutes of cardio a day such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming and doing plenty of stretches after to stay injury free.
YOU DON'T ENJOY HIGH INTENSITY TRAINING
It's a complete myth that you need to run or get your heart rate ridiculously high to reap the benefits of exercise. According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science Medicine, moderate intensity steady state cardio, like brisk walking, provides the same heart health benefits as HIIT, but is much more enjoyable.
Some easy ways to make exercise more fun is to buddy up with a friend or partner, listen to your favourite music, or head outside for a walk in nature. Finding joy in movement will ensure you keep up the habit throughout your lifetime, which is the ultimate goal.
YOUR BODY AND BRAIN ARE STRESSED
Stress can come in many different forms, but two of the most common are mental stress from work, and physical stress from lots of intense exercise. Both of these lead to chronically high levels of a hormone called cortisol, which can lead to increases in blood pressure, weight gain around your waist, and a suppressed immune system.
The good news is that you aren't powerless against stress, and engaging in some mind-body forms of exercise like pilates, Tai Chi, or yoga, will boost your mood, health, and energy levels while lowering cortisol.
YOU WANT TO TAKE IT EASY ON YOUR JOINTS
Let's face it pounding the pavement with long runs or lots of box jumps in Crossfit aren't exactly kind to knees, ankles, or hips. That's why it's important to include lower impact exercise into your weekly routine.
One or two active rest days where you go for a light swim, or walk will give your body sufficient time to recover between high intensity sessions. It's during this time that your muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons repair so you're fitter and stronger next time you hit the gym.
While LISS is kinder to your body long term, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy HIIT training from time to time. Just be sure to listen to your body, and switch to lower impact options if you start to feel exhausted instead of energised from your workout routine.
Sarah King is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, and founder of SK Active.