More often than not, intense workouts are commemorated over low intensity workouts. Yes, intense workouts benefit your heart and your body, but doing too much of it can do the opposite. By overexerting the body and continuously putting it into a state of high stress, these workouts can actually become more detrimental than beneficial. The desire for a fit and slender body often drives us to push through difficult workouts in hopes of achieving a particular outcome, and when we can’t see it we may think that we have to push our bodies even more.
It’s recommended you move your body for approximately 150 minutes per week. This could mean 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes for five days. Sounds achievable, right? Well because many people believe they have to overexert themselves and push themselves to the point of fatigue for the workout to be deemed a success, these minutes aren’t always clocked. What if I told you that you don’t have to overexert yourself in your workouts to achieve measurable results?
You have probably heard of the acronym HIIT which stands for high intensity interval training. This form of exercise consists of short bursts of exercise at an extremely high intensity within your maximum heart rate zone (e.g. sprints or tabata workouts). When you’re dripping sweat, your heart is pumping, and your endorphins are surging, it may feel good in the moment, but doing too much of it can lead to burn out and even injury. Harder is not always better.
There are two types of low-intensity workouts I’d like to discuss: NEAT and LISS. LISS is an acronym for low intensity steady state. It refers to any exercise that’s performed at a low and steady rate, or a low intensity cardio pace for a continuous period of time. This type of exercise can be done with or without equipment and in the comfort of your home. Unlike HIIT, LISS does not spike your cortisol levels but instead, increases your breath and heart rate at a steady, low state. LISS movements can also be referred to as meditation in motion due to the fact that the mind-body connection becomes enhanced, which can subsequently help to lower stress and anxiety.
The benefits of LISS are endless including improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, stronger muscles and bones, and improved mental health. LISS also helps to prevent muscle loss that may naturally happen with age, improve fitness levels, provide fewer cardiac events, and fewer musculoskeletal injuries.
There are many types of LISS exercises and it is important to find a type you enjoy. Some types of LISS exercises include walking, hiking, biking, hiking, elliptical, and rowing. Think of it as any type of movement where one foot is on the ground or in contact and your heart rate is between 50 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. LISS avoids high impact movements such as jumping, squats, burpees and sprints which creates fewer injuries and strain on the muscles, bones, and joints. It can be viewed as a non intimidating form of exercise that helps build a strong fitness foundation for beginners. In other words, it can be performed at any age and at any fitness level. The dread of having to push yourself in your workouts is erased and the joy in simply moving your body is found.
With that being said, you do not have to necessarily choose between one or the other. Rather, you can incorporate both HIIT and LISS exercises into your workout regimen in a way that fits your body’s unique needs. For example, perhaps you use LISS on recovery days or in between high intensity workout days.
Now, onto NEAT. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It refers to the energy that is expended throughout your day from everything else besides exercise, eating, and sleeping. It’s the movement throughout the day that keeps thermogenesis going, increases metabolic rate, and energy expenditure. Some examples of NEAT include taking the stairs, vacuuming, doing laundry, gardening, standing, walking from room to room, and even fidgeting. For example, research has shown that more calories are burned standing up while working rather than sitting down. This small amount of calories adds up and can potentially mean burning up to 100 to 800 more calories a day.
Reframe your usual activities to include more NEAT by incorporating some of the following: pace while talking on the phone, carry your groceries in a basket instead of using a cart, take the long way and park further away, stand while working on your computer, shift your feet while scrolling on your phone, and take standing and stretching breaks while working from your desk.
My hope is that these two concepts have helped you change your mindset regarding exercise. What both forms have in common is the belief that daily movement can (and should) exist, and that any form of movement is still effective, even if it is more gentle.