All right, it’s New Year’s resolution time. Time to get serious about exercising. That means it’s time to hit it hard. Time to sweat up a storm and lose some weight, right?
If you watch the commercials on TV or read gym membership fliers, then this is what you may believe: hard, high-intensity exercise is the way to go if you want to get results. What if I told you that just the opposite was true? What if I told you that it was low-intensity exercise that was the key to improving overall health and fitness? What if I told you that your body burns a higher percentage of fat when you work out at 50 to 75 percent of your max intensity, than when you work out at 85 percent? Would that make the likelihood of you participating in exercise higher?
Those things are true, and I do believe that most people are more likely to engage in exercise that is not unbearably painful.
It is low-intensity, aerobic exercise (such as walking, running, biking and swimming) that is associated with improving the function of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. It is low-intensity aerobic exercise that is associated with your body using fat for energy. This type of exercise should be the base of every fitness regimen.
High-intensity, anaerobic exercise (like intense weight training and sprinting) burns sugar, or glycogen, for energy, which is replaced as soon as you eat. It is this type of exercise that, for an unfit person, can often lead to injury. This type of exercise should be a part of a well-balanced exercise program, but should be incorporated into an established foundation of aerobic exercise.
You need both aerobic and anaerobic exercise to be healthy, strong and have a high quality of life. However, these types of exercise require very different things from the body with very different benefits.
Aerobic exercise teaches your body to burn fat more efficiently. People who are in good aerobic condition burn fat at a higher rate than those who are not. The calories you burn in a workout may be the same, but the person who has a good base of aerobic conditioning burns more fat in a workout.
Your body has several ways it can produce energy for you to exercise. Your body is smart and will always choose the most efficient method of providing you this energy. Energy in your body is called ATP, and your body can produce this fuel through three different anaerobic methods or the aerobic method. The aerobic method is the only way that the body produces energy using fat. Aerobic means “with oxygen,” and it is the presence of oxygen in this type of exercise that allows the body to metabolize fat to produce ATP.
Besides the fact that aerobic metabolism uses fat to provide energy, it also produces no waste product that can hurt your body. Aerobic metabolism produces only carbon dioxide, which you exhale. Anaerobic metabolism, used to provide intense bursts of energy like the kind needed in high-intensity exercise, produces a serious waste product called lactic acid, which burns in your muscles under intense exercise conditions.
Your body would love to burn fat for all exercise bouts, because it is an abundant source of energy. However, because the fat is not stored right inside the working muscle and has to be carried through the bloodstream to get where it is needed, it will only use fat for energy if the conditions are right. The right condition is a slow, steady exercise pace.
Anaerobic exercise is not bad, it just shouldn’t be your only type of exercise. Engaging in high-intensity, power-based exercise should be done a couple times a week. However, this type of activity is hard on the body. If you do not have a good foundation of aerobic fitness, then you should start very slow. As you get in better aerobic shape, you will be able to do more anaerobic exercise.