By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D.
Exercise intensity is a reflection of how hard your heart, lungs and muscles are working. It’s also about how hard you perceive the exercise to be. For instance, walking a treadmill at 3.8 miles per hour might feel incredibly hard to a person who is very out of shape; he might huff and puff and sweat profusely. However, a very fit person might not even break a sweat or breathe much harder at all at the same pace.
The more intense your workouts are, the better conditioned your heart, lungs and muscles become. If you’re not used to breaking a sweat and getting a little out of breath, then challenge yourself! You may discover you’re one of those lucky people who gets an exercise high when they’re in that more intense workout zone.
Another plus when you increase intensity—you can get away with shorter workouts. As explained above, 150 minutes of moderate intensity is approximately the equivalent of 75 minutes of a high-intensity workout.
If you’re a beginner, start out with short, moderate intensity work outs and gradually increase duration and intensity. As you become more fit, it takes more minutes, a quicker pace or steeper incline, or any combination of these to reach high intensity.
Here’s what the terms mean (adapted from the Centers for Disease Control). 1
Moderate intensity: While in the throes of exercising, your breathing and heart rate are noticeably faster but you can still carry on a conversation.
High intensity (or vigorous): Your heart rate is increased substantially and you are breathing too hard and fast to have a conversation.
Consult your health care provider to determine a safe level of exercise for you.
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