Low intensity cardio is perhaps one of the most widely used exercise modalities out there. It’s the most common form of exercise: people walking in the neighborhood, riding bikes, and more.
People from all over the world use it to burn fat, improve their health, and elevate their mood.
But what exactly is low intensity cardio, and what benefits does it offer for us?
What is Low Intensity Cardio?
Low intensity cardio, as the name suggests, is an activity that keeps your heart rate between 40 and 50 percent of your maximal heart rate (MHR) for an extended period, generally over 30 minutes.
Unlike certain types of exercise, this type cardio tends to be low-impact and offers many of the benefits you would gain from more intense activities. Cardio is also an excellent tool you can use to warm-up before a workout.
What’s more, a less intense cardio workout should allow you to maintain a conversation, which makes it a great time to socialize and spend more time with friends and family.
Common examples include a brisk walk, jogging, riding a bike, and hiking in the mountains.
What Benefits Does Low Intensity Cardio Offer?
Like every other exercise modality, this type of cardio offers its fair share of fantastic benefits.
- The most obvious benefit is the caloric burn we experience, which aids with weight loss. If you do this cardio for 30-60 minutes you can expect to burn 150-400 calories depending on your current weight, and other factors. Might not seem like a lot, but if you did it every day for a year: (1)
250 cal per day x 365 = 91,250 calories = 26 lbs of fat
- Cardio is also a great way to boost your energy and mood as it stimulates the release of endorphins – opioid hormones that primarily work to suppress pain, but also bring about euphoria. (2)
- Low intensity cardio is much easier on your joints.
- What’s more, cardio is much safer than most other alternatives, especially high-intensity interval training, weight training, and most sports. This makes it the perfect option for beginners.
- An excellent option for people who are recovering from an injury and cannot do more intense workouts.
- Even if you’re an experienced fitness person, cardio adds variety and helps keep things fresh with your training.
Types of Low Intensity Cardio
You can do this cardio in several ways, and no matter what your fitness level is, you can make it work. For example, if you’re an overweight beginner, you can start with something as simple as brisk walks sprinkled throughout the day – after dinner, on your lunch break, to the grocery store, and such.
If you’re a bit more experienced, you can go for a jog in the morning to boost your mood and energy levels for the day. Jogging is often looked at as old school, but most joggers you see are generally pretty fit. It’s a proven cardio for weight control, and it’s also know as long slow distance (LSD).
You can also ride a bike with friends around town – that’s a great way to get some fresh air, socialize, and have a lot of fun.
List of Low Intensity Cardio Workouts
- Brisk Walking (3-4 mph = 1 mile in 15-20 minutes)
- Jogging (usually a slow jog, also known as long slow distance)
- Jog – Walk (alternate: jog 1 minute, walk 2 minutes)
- Swimming (freestyle/crawl stroke, or sidestroke)
- Bicycling (always best to wear a helmet)
- Riding a stationary bike or elliptical trainer
- Walking or Incline walking on a Treadmill (Speed = 3.5-4.0)
- HikingNOTE: Duration depends on your experience and fitness level. It’s always best to start slow (5-10 minutes per day), and progress. Every little bit of movement helps, and keeps you moving toward your goals.
The Heart Rate Training Zone For Low Intensity
To do low intensity cardio effectively, you should keep your heart rate between 40 and 60 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR).
The table below shows the training zones, and percentage (%) of max heart rate for each training zone.
|Zone||% of MHR||Workout Intensity||Description|
|Zone 5||90-100%||Maximum Intensity||Helps fit athletes increase speed; Very short durations|
|Zone 4||80-90%||Anaerobic||Increases Max Performance; Shorter durations|
|Zone 3||70-80%||Aerobic||Improves aerobic conditioning|
|Zone 2||60-70%||Weight Control||Improves endurance and fat burning; longer durations|
|Zone 1||50-60%||Warm-up||Improves overall health; ideal for warm-up and recovery|
Calculating Your Heart Rate for Low Intensity Cardio
You can calculate your estimated MHR by subtracting your age from the number 220.
MHR = 220 – (your age)
For example, if you’re 40 years old, your MHR should be around 180 beats per minute.
So, a low intensity cardio heart rate zone (40-60%) would be somewhere between:
72 and 108 beats per minute for a 40 year old man
Click to see more low intensity workouts.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, December 7). Calculating your calories burned. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/exercise/art-20050999
Endorphins: What they are and how to boost them. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.).