When it comes to cardio, we tend to think of either high intensity cardio or low intensity. Both have a time and place and come with their own benefits, but if you’re looking to use movement for longevity, you may want to focus on zone 2 cardio. Zone 2 cardio uses fat as its primary source of fuel to get your heart pumping. It’s known for its ability to improve mitochondrial function, cardiorespiratory function, metabolic fitness, and burn fat without straining your muscles.
Performing cardio in “zone 2” means you’re exercising at a moderate level of intensity, ideally for 45 minutes to an hour. There are 5 training zones, with zone 1 being very light intensity and zone 5 being maximum intensity. These zones can be calculated by measuring your maximum heart rate using this formula: 208 – (0.7 x age). Zone 2 is going to be 60 to 70% of that number, so you can take that number and multiply it by .6 and .7 to get your range. To find out if you’re in that range, it’s easiest if you use a fitness tracker. While in this zone, you should be able to speak full sentences.
Nostril breathing is an important part of zone 2 cardio, although I always recommend focusing on nostril breathing during any workout. This is because nasal breathing can help to filter bacteria, assist in oxygen delivery to your cells, and reduce oxidative stress. Nasal breathing also requires a greater level of awareness and if you start to jog too fast, it becomes surprisingly hard to breathe through your nose. This awareness and focus can also add a meditative element to your workout.
Some examples of zone 2 cardio exercises include light jogging/fast walking, cycling, using the elliptical or stair master, swimming laps, or bodyweight exercises. These are generally accessible workouts and aren’t overly complicated, so they’re sustainable. Experts say that in order to see results (particularly fat loss) you should perform 30 to 60 minutes of zone 2 cardio three to four times a week.
If you’re a HIIT fanatic or even a yin yoga fan, you can still highly benefit from zone 2 cardio. Like most things in wellness, quick fixes aren’t going to solve your problems but adapting a longevity mindset will. If you want to focus on longevity, avoid workouts that are over-straining, spike your cortisol, or can easily result in injury. Instead, aim to move with the maximum amount of effort that still allows for nasal breathing. In other words, let your breath be your guide.