Does slow cardio exercise help me burn more fat?

It is true that slow cardio exercise burns more fat than carbohydrate when compared to the fat-burning properties of more intense high-impact exercise. But the trade-off is that slow cardio exercise burns fewer overall calories per unit of time spent exercising. High-intensity exercise burns proportionally more carbohydrate than fat, but you also burn more calories overall. This translates to larger calorie deficits, which are later paid back with a reduction in stored body fat.

Ultimately, both slow and high-impact exercises burn fat. In the big fat-loss game, it's how many calories you burn off, relative to how many you take in, that makes the difference. Slow cardio exercise is a very effective way to lose body fat. You just need to go a little longer to burn more calories.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.
Wendy Batts
Performing cardio at lower intensities for longer periods of time does not necessarily help you burn more body fat. Remember, losing body fat is really a numbers game, and it all comes down to how many calories your burn versus how many you eat. In order to maximize the amount of fat being burned overall (during and after exercise), you should consider exercising in different heart rate zones. Exercising in higher heart rate zones not only burns more calories during the activity, but also causes the body to burn more calories after exercise. Try performing some high-low intervals to increase your calorie burn and decrease your body fat:  begin with a slow 5 minute warm-up at a low pace. Increase your intensity for 1 minute to a pace where you can barely hold a conversation.  Follow this minute with a 1 minute slow pace rest interval. Continue this sequence for 15 minutes and finish with a 5 minute slow pace cool-down. This is a great start to burning off that body fat!

In a strict scientific sense, these claims are true because working at a lower intensity requires less quick energy and a higher percentage of fat is burned. But you'll also burn fewer calories than you would if, for the same amount of time, you work out at a harder intensity (running versus walking). If you're trying to lose weight, even though a higher percentage of fat is being used, a lower total amount of fat is lost.

Whether increased fat burning will result in actual weight loss is dependent upon several variables, including the total calories burned and the total fat calories burned.  If you do work at a low intensity, you need to increase the time spent exercising to burn more calories. What matters most is the total number of calories burned. If you burned 250 calories every day from a short, fast jog, you'd see a bigger difference in weight and fat loss than if you walked everyday for the same amount of time. The number of fat calories you burn isn't that important, because even if you burn a lot of carb calories, these need to be replaced both by the carbs you eat in your diet and also within your body. Your fat stores will be broken down and transformed into carbohydrates when you need fuel. Even if you're burning lots of carb calories and less fat calories through exercise, your fat still inevitably gets used.

It comes down to this: When total exercise time stays constant, you don't use more calories at lower exercise intensities. If you're trying to lose weight and you have only 30 minutes to work out, you would burn fewer calories walking at a moderate pace compared to walking at a fast pace. Working out at higher intensities may cause you to burn a lower percentage of fat, but since you burn more total calories, you still use more fat calories.

Low- to moderate-intensity exercise can burn a significant number of calories over a period of time. If you aren't fit enough to push yourself to work at a high intensity, or you have a physical weakness that prevents you from doing so, you can still burn a lot of calories by doing low-intensity workouts for a longer period of time.

Slow cardio helps you burn a higher percentage of fat, but it does not help you burn more fat overall. For instance, if you do a low intensity cardio for 30 minutes, you may get a higher percentage coming from fat, but you have done a low intensity, so you have not burned that many calories.  A great example of a low intensity event with a greater percentage of calories coming from fat is … SLEEP.  Most of the calories burned during sleep come from fat, but sleeping is not the best means of weight loss.  If you go into a higher intensity, you are going to burn a higher percentage of calories from carbohydrates than fats. The bottom line is the higher intensity burns more calories, and the more calories you burn, the more weight you lose. The end result is fat loss.
Slow cardio will not burn more fat.  At a slower pace, a greater percentage of calories burned will be from fat, but the total calories, and total fat calories will be lower than exercise at a more intense pace.  You'll  want to go with a pace you can maintain for 30-60 minutes, and advanced exercisers can add in interval training for added fat burning.
Slow cardio will not burn more body fat.  I know a lot of machines out there tell you that lower heart rate will allow you to stay in your fat burning zone.  Remember this to burn fat it all comes down to numbers.  One you have to burn more than you take in.  Second you have to burn 3500 calories to loose one pound of fat.  So on that notion if someone working out at a slow pace in 30 minutes only burns 250 calories but someone at a high pace burns 350 calories in 30 minutes the person at the high pace will end up burning more fat and loose more weight in a shorter amount of time. 
You will burn more fat by burning more calories.  Many cardiovascular pieces of equipment have programs for fat lose and this may keep you in a lower heart rate for a longer period of time.  This will be more beneficial than doing no exercise at all but may not help you burn more fat.  In order to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consumer remembering that 1 pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories.
Slow cardio will not help you burn more fat. You may have heard people and even some fitness professionals talk about a fat burning zone. This fat burning zone does not exist. A decrease in body fat will take place anytime more energy is being burned than is being consumed. It is how many calories you burn that dictates body fat reduction. If your goal is fat loss then you will want to perform your cardio in a way where you will burn more calories. Increase the intensity of your workout. Performing exercise at a higher intensity will have your body working harder and therefore burning more calories. Interval training alternating high intensity periods with low to moderate intensity periods is a great way to exercise for maximal calorie burn. With this type of training you will continue to burn calories even after you have stopped exercising. Interval training is an advanced method of training so if you are a beginner start out slow and work toward increasing the duration of your cardio sessions first. Once you can hold a steady pace for 45 minutes a day, three to four days per week, then you can start working toward increasing the intensity of your workout. The more intense your workout the more calories and fat you will burn.

Continue Learning about Cardiovascular Training

Does Slow Exercise Burn More Fat?
Does Slow Exercise Burn More Fat?
You'll find it on virtually every cardio machine at the gym: instructions on how to hit your fat-burning zone. Essentially, it means you get to work o...
Read More
What types of exercise bikes are used for cardio training?
Dr. Mike Clark, DPTDr. Mike Clark, DPT
Here are some types of exercise bikes for cardio training: Recumbent Bike: The recumbent bike off...
More Answers
How many days per week should I do cardio to lose weight?
National Academy of Sports MedicineNational Academy of Sports Medicine
Cardio is a great way to help promote health and lose weight. However, weight loss is dependent ...
More Answers
Simple Cardio Exercise You Can Do Anywhere
Simple Cardio Exercise You Can Do Anywhere

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.