Cardio: Short and Intense or Long and Steady

Melanie Rovinsky

When it comes to cardio training, is it better to work out for a long time at a steady pace or for a brief period at a more demanding rate? Experts believe both routines have their benefits, and you must identify your goal before pursuing a specific plan.

Cardio workouts have two benefits; they help burn calories and improve heart function. If your aim is strictly to lose weight, you must focus on the number of calories expended. According to Dr. Glenn Gaesser, exercise physiologist at the University of Virginia, losing weight is dependent on both intensity and duration.

However, “since longer duration can usually be tolerated better than higher intensity, duration should be emphasized,” Gesser explains.

In order to improve your cardiovascular health, you must elevate your heart rate by exercising at a more intense pace. This type of routine should be kept within 25 to 45 minutes and should not be performed every day. In addition to increased heart function, these short, more difficult workouts boost performance and endurance.

Fitness experts are beginning to stress the benefit of interval training over more standardized methods of steady calorie burning. According to the Mayo Clinic, alternating intense bouts of cardio activity with short periods of moderate exercise burns more calories and improves aerobic activity.

In addition to improving heart health, interval training can help stimulate your body’s ability to burn calories. New York Times reporter Peter Jaret called attention to the lasting benefits of interval training in his article “A Healthy Mix of Rest and Motion.”

“After interval training, the amount of fat burned in an hour of continuous moderate cycling increased by 36 percent,” Jaret wrote.

Another way to keep your heart rate up is to vary your exercise day to day. Although you may burn the most calories on the stairclimber, switching to a different machine once in a while will prevent adaptation and promote progress.

 “Research has shown that short bouts of exercise—as few as three 10-minute sessions—are just as effective as long ones, provided the total cumulative workout time and intensity level are comparable,” Shape magazine says.

Get in touch with your inner child! Jumping rope, doing jumping jacks, jumping up and down, and running up the stairs are all great ways to squeeze in a few minutes of cardio activity.