Pushing yourself to “feel the burn” and work up a sweat at the gym may not be the best way to boost your fitness, new research shows.
In fact, low-intensity workouts provide more health benefits than short, intense bursts of exercise.
The key is to be sure the number of calories burned during long, low-intensity workouts is the same as those expended in short bursts of intense energy, according to the study published in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.
For the study, Hans Savelberg and colleagues from Maastricht University recruited 18 healthy, normal-weight 19- to 24-year-olds participants to follow three different exercise regimes. One group was instructed to sit for 14 hours each day and not indulge in any form of exercise. The second was told to sit for 13 hours a day and exercise vigorously for one hour. The third group of participants spent six hours sitting, four of walking, and two hours standing.
After each workout, the researchers tracked the participant's insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels, both of which are tied to metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity.
The results showed that both groups of individuals who exercised had better measures of metabolism than the strictly sedentary group. They also indicated cholesterol and lipid levels improved slightly in the participants who exercised vigorously for an hour each day, but they improved dramatically in those who were active for longer periods at lower intensity.
The study concluded that when energy expenditure is equivalent, longer durations of low-intensity exercise may offer more benefits than shorter periods of intense activity.
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