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Low-Intensity Cardio 101 Guide - Benefits & Example Workouts

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: August 25, 2023

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown by many studies as an effective way of burning calories when done regularly; however, HIIT can result in burnout if not done in moderation.

Every once in a while, your muscles will crave more low-intensity workouts that offer relief without disrupting muscle tone or cardiovascular fitness.

Low-intensity workouts also help build the foundation – your endurance so that you can do more high-threshold exercises.

So, I delve into research to give you this complete guide for low-intensity cardio workouts. Let’s roll.

Quick Summary

  • The best low-intensity cardio workouts are walking, jogging, swimming, rowing, yoga, and cycling.
  • A low-intensity cardio workout is performed at a slow and at steady pace, allowing you to perform them for an extended period.
  • The benefits of low-intensity cardio workouts range from helping lower fatigue, aiding in fat loss, allowing faster recovery, increasing endurance, and lowering the risks of injuries.

What Is A Low-intensity Cardio Workout?

man smiling while doing crunches at home

A low-intensity cardio workout is done at a slow and steady pace. It’s a low-impact aerobic exercise performed at 50-70% of your maximum or target heart rate.

Compared to high-intensity cardio which you can only perform at short periods, you can perform lower-intensity workouts in a steady or extended period of about 10-60 minutes.

Though opposite to high-intensity cardio training, low-intensity exercise compliments it and is an excellent addition to your workout regimen.

Low-intensity cardio helps increase blood flow, reduce stress, lower the risks of heart diseases, and aid in fat burning and weight loss.

Well, let's take a look into its health benefits in a little while.

Whatever your current fitness level is, low-intensity steady-state exercise is for you.

Target Heart Rate for a Low-Intensity Workout

Your target heart rate for low-intensity exercise should be in the low-intensity zone, at 50-70% of your maximum heart rate.

To know your maximum heart rate (the maximum number of times your heart beats in a minute of maximum physical activity), subtract your age from 220. So, if you're 25, your maximum is 195.

Therefore, your target heart rate should be 98 (50% of your max) to 137 (70% of your maximum heart rate) when working out in the low-intensity zone.

Benefits Of Low-intensity Cardio Exercises

man smiling while holding up a thumbs up and a dumbbell

Doing low-intensity cardio can give you many benefits, and here are some of them.

Helps Lower Fatigue

If you've constantly been feeling tired and weak, maybe a sports drink or energy bar or nap is not what you need. Studies show that going out for a walk or a jog could help raise your energy.

Research has shown that sedentary adults who have reported feelings of fatigue increase their energy levels by 20% and decrease their fatigue levels by 65% by doing regular, low- to moderate-intensity exercises [1].

Another reason why a low-intensity workout could overcome fatigue is that exercise increases endorphins in the body, which increases our oxygen levels and boosts our energy.

Allows Faster Recovery

woman smiling while flexing both her arms

Instead of inactivity, like vegging on the couch after a day of a strenuous workout, performing cardio workouts at a steady pace could speed up your recovery time.

It helps get your blood flowing to reduce the lactic acid buildup (which causes muscle pain and fatigue), allowing your muscles to recover and rebuild from high-intensity exercise.

Helps in Fat Loss

Your body needs more oxygen to burn fat because fat is denser than carbohydrates.

Working out in lower-intensity exercise provides you more oxygen to burn fat; therefore, it could help in fat-burning.

Dr. Matt Tanneberg of Body Check explains that once you have burned your daily calories, cardio helps to continue to burn 'the excess' that otherwise will stay in your body, eventually turning into fat.

But, it doesn't mean you're burning total fat or total calories. It's essential to note that you will need to burn more than your calorie intake to lose the extra pounds.

Lowers Risks of Injury

woman showing her nape while holding it

High-intensity workouts have been popular recently because they could help achieve one's fitness goals within a short amount of time.

But, HIIT workouts pose higher risks of injury and burnout than low-impact cardio workouts [2].

With that, you might want to mix up higher intensity exercises with lower impact cardio exercises.

Personal trainer Lara Gray of The Ginger Guru recommends low-impact cardio exercises for those with mobility limitations and joint pains. Swimming, water aerobics, and walking are some exercises that work all major muscles through a full range of motion while avoiding strain.

And if you want to achieve the same results from HIIT workouts, you need to exercise in longer periods with low-intensity cardio to make up for the loss of intensity.

Increases Endurance

Low impact cardio helps improve your breathing and heart rate, enabling you to perform physical activities for an extended period.

An improved aerobic fitness or heart and lung function also help you prepare for more intense physical activities.

6 Best Low-Intensity Cardio Workouts

Ready to try or incorporate low-intensity workouts into your routine? Here are six must-try low-intensity cardio exercises.

1. Walking

Good news for those who hate running, walking counts as a cardio exercise. Whether it’s a stroll around the neighborhood or a walk on a treadmill or stepper machine, you can already reap tons of benefits for your overall health.

Walking helps strengthen your lungs and heart, burn calories, reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases, boost energy, and improve mood.

2. Jogging

man running out and about

While walking can improve your cardiovascular health and prevent weight gain, picking up your pace through jogging or running can speed up your fitness journey.

Jogging or running also keeps you off the exercise plateau – when you start to feel unmotivated or bored with your workouts.

Related: Jogging vs Sprinting - Which One is Better?

3. Swimming

Swimming is a good cardio low-intensity workout and gives other benefits, such as building a great figure. It's also an excellent calorie burner; doing freestyle or butterfly strokes could burn 300 to 450 cals.

"Swimming is a full-body workout that targets the legs, upper body, and core, especially your lats — the muscles of your middle back — and triceps."

– Natasha Van Der Merwe, Director of Triathlon at Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy in Austin, Texas

4. Rowing

man using a rowing machine in a gym

If you want to boost your cardiovascular health and strengthen your muscles, you should add rowing to your list.

Pushing a rowing machine gives you both cardio and strength training – it helps increase stamina, boost the immune system, and increase weight loss.

And it is an amazing aerobic exercise for all fitness levels.

5. Cycling

Getting on a bike is also a great idea to boost your physical and mental well-being. Biking gets your heart pumping and strengthens your lower-back muscles.

Through biking, you also get to explore views, process your thoughts and worries, and broaden your social circle, which are all good for your mental health.

6. Yoga

woman in a yoga position in a at in front of a laptop

Some forms of yoga, called "cardio yoga", can get your heart working and increase your breathing, so they can count as aerobic exercise.

Cardio yoga improves your breathing, calms your mind, and improves your flexibility and balance.

How Often Should You Do Low-intensity Workouts?

If you don’t bother with fitness goals and only want to build healthy habits and move away from your routine activities, then 30-60 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity cardio two to three times a week works for you.

You can do low-intensity workouts every day or if you're doing HIIT workouts, try to mix low-impact cardio two to three times a week.


Should You Do More Cardio After High-Intensity Interval Training?

HIIT is a cardio exercise in itself, and because it's intense training, you shouldn’t do it every day.

You may try to mix it up with low-impact cardio and only train HIIT two or three times a week.

Can You Lose Extra Weight by Walking 30 Minutes a Day?

Yes. Physical activities, such as doing a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, helps with weight control because it helps you torch calories.

But, to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

Are You Going to Try Low-intensity Cardio Exercises?

If you're looking for an exercise to get your heart working, improve your breathing, reduce the risks of heart diseases, and engage in active recovery, then get yourself on a bike, do a light jog, or a stroll in a park.

These light cardio exercises, when done consistently, surely will improve your physical and mental well-being.

And whatever your fitness level is, whether you’re a beginner or an avid marathoner, these low-impact cardio workouts are for you. I also recommend that my clients take one of these pre-workouts:

Take your workouts to the next level with supplements that are backed by science and tailored to your needs.


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