When it comes to exercise, you may feel like there’s no middle ground between working hard and hardly working. But physical activity doesn’t require an all-or-nothing approach. Though quick HIIT workouts or sweaty yoga classes can definitely be appealing, especially if you’re a busy person, adding moderate exercise to your workout routine is actually a great way to stay motivated.
It’s a great place to start.
According to a 2016 study, shifting from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one can lead to longer life expectancy. Additionally, moderate exercise appears to support heart health. But, regular workouts that don’t necessarily push your limits or leave you spent, such as steady-state cardio, can be a great place to start.
You can still burn calories and fat.
Muenster says that most people assume workouts only “count” if they’re sore or exhausted afterward, but that’s not true. In her opinion, muscle soreness means that you literally broke down muscle fibers, and probably went outside of your comfort zone, but has nothing to do with how many calories you burned. And, doing the routine, seemingly “non-exercise” activities can eventually add up to a higher daily calorie burn than your 30-minute workout.
“There are different variations of training. We all need to train in different zones at different times,” adds Aaptiv Trainer Candice Cunningham. “When you train in your fat-burning zone, for example, you are at around 70 percent of your max heart rate, which means [that] you won’t feel completely wiped out after. You are still getting major benefits, both in cardio and strength.”
For this reason, Aaptiv Trainer Ceasar Barajas loves helping people understand the effectiveness and benefits of moderate fitness. “Why in the world would you want to continually run your body into the ground, leaving absolutely nothing in the tank?” he asks. “You’ve got an entire life to maintain and lead outside of the gym. There’s no need to exhaust yourself every single time.”
If you want to break a sweat, great—but it’s not crucial.
Many fitness classes offer a “hot” or “intense” version of a certain style, like hot yoga or HIIT running. However, the alternative versions, like a standard yoga or strength training class are often just as good. You don’t necessarily need to be covered in sweat post-workout, either. It’s all about your preference.
“In my opinion, temperature serves to raise your body temperature a bit, and some might feel better sweating more. But the workout is essentially the same for most exercises and the calories burned [aren’t] significantly more,” says Muenster. “So, save the lost electrolytes, unless it’s hot yoga, in which the heat can loosen up the joints and muscles so that you are a bit more flexible and can move more fluidly.”
Use your breathing as a guide.
For those unsure of what constitutes as moderate exercise, Muenster says to look for something that gets your breathing to a point where you can’t hold a conversation comfortably. Of course, this varies based on your fitness level and physical ability. But how you breathe is a good personal gauge in terms of energy expenditure. Your workout should feel a little challenging, where you’re breathing fast but not gasping for air, or totally out of breath. You might work up a light sweat after about ten to 15 minutes.
“A general rule of thumb is to find some sort of movement that’s going to allow for your body’s heart rate to increase. And for you to consciously catch your breath,” says Barajas. “Even walking can do that for you if you decide to speed it up, so maybe increase the stride lengths.”
Focus on variety more than intensity.
“Stop going to the exact same class, with the same exact teacher, every Wednesday/Friday/Sunday at 12:30 p.m., where you know exactly what’s coming before the teacher even speaks to it,” advises Barajas. “The point is, your body and its working systems are so smart that your body will adapt to the same things it’s presented with. That’s how plateaus occur in strength training and weight loss.”
The name of the game is “shock your body,” says Barajas. He recommends finding alternatives to classes that already suit your physical needs and match what you like to do. If you like gentle yoga, switch it up with acro-yoga or a power yoga class. If you hate strength training, find a HIIT-style workout to do on the elliptical machine.
Just. Keep. Moving.
Because our bodies adapt over time, says Cunningham, focus on finding new and different ways to challenge yourself. That will lead to more health benefits and can help you stay lean or keep strength levels up. More than anything, look for workouts that make you feel fulfilled, happy and healthy. Start with ten or so minutes of moderate exercise, then work your way up, and be sure to get approval from your doctor first.
“The idea of movement, in general, is great for the body, especially as we age,” says Barajas. “Think of an old rusted truck in the back of someone’s garage, as opposed to the truck in the front of the garage that receives regular maintenance and usage. Don’t let your body turn into the rusted truck!”
You don’t have to approach fitness with a “go hard or go home” attitude. Moderate fitness can be just as beneficial to your body as high-intensity activity. The point, after all, is to get moving.