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Exercise intensity: Less isn’t always more

published: 03-22-2017 Journal entry icon

The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? What are the risks? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.

The role of intensity during exercise has been demonstrated. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. Short-duration high-intensity interval exercise has similar, if not better, benefits compared to long-duration low-intensity exercise. These benefits include reduced risk for chronic disease, increased oxygen uptake, and overall improved exercise performance. Since the number one barrier to exercise individuals report is not having enough time to exercise, this is important: With increased intensity, workouts can be shorter in duration, and you can still reap the benefits. You also can feel “afterburn” following high-intensity exercise, which means your body is burning calories even after you’ve completed your workout.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so you can benefit from exercise at a level that is you consider high intensity, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete. Shoot for your target heart rate as a good start to gauge intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.