Moderate-Intensity Workouts Maximize Health Benefits

"I’m exercising for an hour every day, I’m watching my diet, and I’m not losing weight—what’s the problem?"

When I hear this from a patient at Providence Integrative Medicine, my first thought is: "You might not be working hard enough."

Researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, came to a similar conclusion in a study presented recently at the annual conference of the American College of Sports Medicine. They put 128 men and women on a six-month exercise program: Some were assigned a typical moderate-intensity workout that included treadmills and stationary bikes, while others were asked to walk 10,000 steps daily at their own pace.

Well, you can probably guess what happened: The higher-intensity exercisers beat out the light walkers by lowering their systolic blood pressure by an average of 10 percent. (The light walkers lowered theirs by 4 percent.)

Here are four steps to getting ahead of the curve in your exercise program:

  • Always consult your primary care physician before starting a new exercise program.
  • Buy a heart rate monitor with a chest strap.
  • Calculate target heart rates for exercise with the help of a Providence Integrative Medicine practitioner or a fitness specialist.
  • Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts until you are at about 75 percent of your maximum heart rate for best results. Be sure to take it slowly and to gradually increase your heart rate for the first few minutes of your warm-up and then gradually decrease it in the last few minutes as you cool down.
Heart rate monitors are available at most fitness stores. They’re not cheap, but they are a good investment. It’s hard to judge how hard you’re working out based on effort alone; by contrast, a heart rate monitor gives you instant, accurate feedback.

Since we all tend to be short on time anyway, it’s especially important to make the most of the limited time we have for exercise. For most of us, that means gradually increasing the level of intensity of what we’re doing.

Cindy Reuter, N.D., MSOM, L.Ac., R.D.