Active individuals sometimes think of easier workouts as unnecessary. But lower-intensity sessions do offer mental and physical health benefits. Plus, what is your alternative if you skip that low-intensity workout? Compared to sitting, any low-intensity exercise is likely much better for you!
There are several distinct ways that low intensity workouts deliver health advantages.
Lower intensity exercise can be an ideal active recovery strategy. This means that if you’re already challenging yourself with tougher workouts, the lower intensity movements can support how well you bounce back. On the other hand, if you’re recovering from injury, then gentle low-intensity movements may be ideal to stay active without any unnecessary stress. Studies suggest that low intensity exercise is especially helpful for those recovering from blood vessel injuries or head trauma.
Your muscles rely on blood circulation to remove waste and deliver oxygen and nutrients. The heart pumps many factors through your blood vessels that mediate fitness improvements. For example, blood vessels convey amino acids to your muscles, the building blocks of protein that muscles use to grow and gain strength.
The health of your heart muscle is important to protect. This can be measured based on how much the heart beat varies over time. Variability is desirable and associated with better health. Studies show that pain-free walking improves heart rate variability. This signals that the body is better able to shift into a relaxed state compared to those with low heart rate variability.
Another advantage of easier movement sessions is that they burn a higher percentage of fat as fuel. Despite this higher percentage, low intensity exercise burns less total fat compared to moderate intensity workouts. Nonetheless, compared to skipping the workout all together, low intensity exercise sessions do support the goal of a leaner body.
A lot of individuals are eager to improve their blood sugar. Insulin is crucial for this function, but we lose sensitivity to insulin when we haven’t worked in several days. Research indicates that walking exercise can be used to reinstate our sensitivity to insulin. Further studies suggest that insulin sensitivity is improved by intensities as low as 40% of your peak exercise output.
Perhaps the most important way we benefit from low intensity movement is our mental health. Lower intensity movements can enhance mood, including walking, gentle yoga and tai chi. Easier workouts can ease the symptoms of depression, and help you feel connected to your body.
A new area of research is how we can combine exercise and contemplative practices. For example, walking movements can be ideal for practicing mindfulness. A study in young adults even found that 10 minutes of walking meditation can alleviate anxiety.
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