Will low-intensity cardio exercise help me lose weight?

The old-school approach to weight loss emphasized lengthy sessions of low- or moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise. We were told to climb onto a treadmill, find the pace that corresponded to our fat-burning "target heart rate," and enjoy the monotony of the human hamster wheel for an hour. If only we'd remembered to consult our great reality check -- human evolution -- we might have realized that this approach, like fad diets, loses its effectiveness over time. So what to do?

Unless you are physically unable to engage in more vigorous forms of exercise, old-school cardio is not only inefficient, it may actually be counterproductive to reaching your physique goals. Although low-intensity aerobic exercise burns some fat during the actual activity, it has only minimal impact on lean tissue development and overall metabolism.

Don't get me wrong: Long, slow cardio is better than nothing. Previously sedentary individuals get results from cardio, at least for a little while. In the long run (excuse the pun), progress is limited. Studies have clearly demonstrated that, over time, conventional cardio compromises speed, coordination, strength and agility.

Exercise physiologists are now proving that the most efficient way to induce progressive (and permanent) fat loss is to elevate metabolic rate around the clock -- an endeavor best accomplished through a combination of resistance training and intense, short-duration exercise. Weight training builds muscle, and a little muscle goes a long way toward increasing metabolic rate, caloric expenditure and fat burning. Likewise, brief intervals of intense exercise induce a hormonal response that raises resting metabolic rate and increases overall fat burning -- for up to two days!

It is actually a simple matter to modify your current cardio routine so it is working for--rather than against -- your physique goals. Long, slow cardio sessions may devour the muscle you want. Instead, punctuate your aerobic workout with brief (30-60 seconds) all-out sprints every three to five minutes. This type of training, often referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), makes your workout more effective and efficient, so you can cut your workout time in half and reap significantly greater benefits -- both in terms of fat loss and peak performance.

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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.