Is High-Intensity Exercise Always Best? Here's How to Determine the Healthiest Level of Activity for You
Getting fit is all about moving your body. And it's not just about how much movement and what type of movement you do—it's also about how intensely you do that movement. Exercise and physical activity is generally categorized into three different types of intensity: low, moderate, and high (sometimes called "vigorous"). But it can be tricky to understand exactly what type of activity falls into which intensity bucket.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior, which recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (that's about 21 to 43 minutes per day) or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week for able-bodied adults. But how do you know for sure that your movement of choice really is vigorous enough? Is your level of aerobic activity too vigorous? Is high-intensity always best, or will a good low-impact walk get the job done? Do the same guidelines apply to both beginners and fitness buffs? So many questions.
Knowing what each exercise intensity means and learning how to structure your fitness routine accordingly will help you get most from the exercise you do. We asked health and fitness experts to break them down, explain why they matter, and share how to apply them to your daily life.
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