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. Click to see a complete list of the benefits of cardio, and here is a quick summary:
- 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 known 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)
Click to learn more about treadmill speed, mph, pace per mile conversions.
NOTE: 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
How Many Days a Week to Do Cardio
At A Lean Life, we are big believers in the power of cardio.
Including cardio in your daily routine is one of the very best things that you can do for your overall health. It’s also a tremendously beneficial thing for weight loss and weight control.
I have found from my own experience, when I set only certain days for cardio, I used to get busy and create excuses not to do it. And I would always justify in my own mind, “well, I’ll just double up this weekend.”
And it was always an ongoing battle to keep things consistent. However, when I decided to make it part of my everyday routine, that’s when I found powerful consistency.
Daily Cardio for Consistency
So we recommend doing cardio each and every day. Make time for it. It’s a life-changing habit.
I built it into my daily routine, just like brushing my teeth or getting dressed for work. And after a few weeks, it becomes a habit like other daily tasks.
So we recommend doing cardio daily. Just to build it into your daily routine.
And not every day needs to be an intense cardio workout. Depending on your age and fit level, many cardio days might be cardio with low intensity. Like going for a 20-minute walk. Or a 30-minute jog-walk, where you rotate between jogging and walking.
The key is consistency, and no better way to develop consistency than to do it every day. Even if it’s only 10 minutes. This consistency will create big power in your fitness journey, as well as your weight control journey if that’s something you’re focused on.
Safety Considerations for Low Intensity Cardio
If you are new to cardio, you should always take caution when starting any new program. Each person is different, and it’s impossible to know how your body will react to a new cardio routine.
So it’s always best to check with your personal, medical professional prior to starting any exercise regimen. This is especially important with cardio, as it creates more stress on the heart than most other activities.
Here are some other posts on the power of cardio, and also the power of HIIT:
- HIIT at the Gym
- Steady-state Cardio
- Cardio Before or After Weights
- Cardio vs Weights
- Cardio Alternatives to Running
- When to Do Cardio
- 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.).