High intensity vs low intensity work outs – for weight loss, health and fitness

HIIT workouts are all the rage but new research suggests a good old fashioned walk is better for your health – we asked the experts for the pros and cons of high intensity and slow burning exercise

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and short-burst workouts that make you sweat hard for a short time are growing in popularity, with trainers promising faster results and better health outcomes.

But new research has suggested slow burning exercise, such as going for a nice long walk, could actually be better for us. HIIT gives your heart a workout and burns calories ©Rex

Sitting for long periods of time is bad for our health – which is why modern office-based jobs and lives are prone to conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

The study by researchers at Maastricht University in Holland used volunteers to discover whether an hour at the gym can counteract a day spend sitting. And in general, it can’t. Instead, longer periods of low intensity helped regulate insulin and cholesterol levels more effectively.

So who do we believe? We asked an expert:

“As human beings, we are built to walk,” explains Jennifer Zerling, author of Breaking the Chains of Obesity, 107 Tools, “so walking isn’t really to be classed as ‘exercise’ as such.”

She continues: “Exercise means getting your heart rate to at least 65 per cent of your maximum heart rate.  So for most people there isn’t a cardiovascular advantage to general walking, especially if they’re trying to lose weight or improve cardiovascular fitness.

But for people who are very overweight or very unfit, walking could be a good start as it might be enough to push their heart rate up to the required levels to make a difference.Though not a workout, walking can help burn fat and maintain health ©Rex

It’s starting to become a bit clearer. What it boils down to is that we should be moving more in our day-to-day lives, walking more often and sitting less. But just walking isn't a workout. To give your body and cardiovascular system a workout, we need to up the ante with HIIT.

“Many people fail to walk or move enough in their day,” continues Jennifer. “A pedometre is a good way to tell whether you’re getting enough movement in your daily life.

“The essential movement helps keep the arteries healthy since your legs pump blood back to the heart.  In addition, walking keeps the joints moving and healthy.  So walking to add movement to your day is highly recommended in addition to your visits to the gym.”

Jennifer’s a big fan of HIIT. Here are her pros for exercising in this way:

1)    Time efficiency; you can get a terrific workout into your schedule in less time through high intensity interval training (no more hour long visits at the gym)
2)    20-30 minutes of HIIT will burn more calories than walking or even jogging for a straight hour
3)    Your body burns fat not only during interval training but even after you’re done training.  This is called EPOC or post exercise oxygen consumption.  Your cells are thirsty for oxygen post HIIT and that oxygen promotes the mobilisation of fat out of the cells for energy.  (Pretty cool!)
4)    It improves your heart health and lung volume
5)    You release more growth hormone during HIIT
6)    You decrease the release of cortisol (stress hormone that you do not want in your body) during HIIT vs. steady state training or running at a quick steady pace.
7)    It improves your energy levels and libido

But that’s not to say walking can’t be beneficial or help you lose weight.

Low intensity exercise is fat burning and is particularly good for beginners or those starting from low levels of fitness or with excess weight to burn. If you keep at it for 45 minutes you will make some progress.

And though it's high energy and calorie burning, a short period of high intensity exercise isn’t enough to undo an entire day spent sat at your desk followed by vegging out on the sofa.

The key, as with anything, is balance.  Increase the amount of movement in your day and try to incorporate walking where you can, whether it’s a part of your journey to work or making time to walk for recreation. That combined with a few HIIT gym sessions a week and eating well will see your health increase and waistline decrease.