Which contributes to greater weight loss: exercising in the "fat-burning" zone or at a higher level of intensity? The answer lies in the number of calories burned not in which fuel substrate the body uses for energy.
To burn the most calories, you need to exercise at higher intensities. For example, you burn more calories running for 30 minutes than walking for the same amount of time. Running consumes calories from readily available fuel of carbohydrates. Walking at a more leisurely pace utilizes slower-burning fat for fuel; however you are using fewer calories per minute than with more intense exercise.
Higher intensity exercise also offers another benefit for weight loss in that it temporarily suppresses your appetite. A recent study showed that cyclists who rode stationary bikes hard for 30 minutes consumed far fewer calories afterward than when they rode at a more moderate pace. They also had lower blood levels of the hormone ghrelin, a known appetite stimulant.
According to other new research high intensity interval raining (HIIT), short bursts of intense exercise alternating with recovery periods, may have the potential to lower abdominal fat by creating a surge in hormones that have been shown to drive fat breakdown, especially deep abdominal fat.
So we can conclude that high intensity exercise contributes to weight loss by burning calories, suppressing appetite and reducing abdominal fat. If you are a fan of moderate exercise, there are several ways to ramp up your program:
- Know your heart rate training range which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate and high intensity levels.
- Intersperse faster paced intervals into your moderate cardio activity. Allow twice as long to recover from a high intensity interval, i.e. if you sprint for 1 minute, allow two minutes of active rest.
- Add intervals of cardio activity into your strength training program, so that you keep your heart rate elevated continuously.
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