Moderate-Vigorous Exercise Boosts Fitness 3 Times More Than Walking

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A new study indicates that though walking is a good way to improve your health, performing moderate-vigorous exercise can give your fitness level an even bigger boost in less time. Oscar Wong/Getty Images
  • A new study finds that “moderate-vigorous” exercise can improve your fitness three times as much as walking.
  • Moderate-vigorous exercise is activity that leaves you able to hold a conversation but sometimes having to catch your breath.
  • It is recommended that you aim for 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity.
  • If you are new to exercising, experts suggest starting slow and building to a higher level.

It’s well known that a more active lifestyle is conducive to health.

According to Dr. Larry Nolan, a family and sports medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, exercise affects several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including weight, blood pressure, glucose control, and cholesterol levels.

But how hard do you need to work out to make a significant impact on your fitness level?

While walking is a good way to improve your health, performing “moderate-vigorous” exercise can give your fitness an even bigger boost, a new study shows.

It can improve your fitness three times more than walking.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, included about 2,070 people involved in the Framingham Heart Study.

The multigenerational Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948, seeks to identify what factors contribute to heart disease.

According to Dr. Stephen Henry, a sports medicine physician at the University of Miami Health System Sports Medicine Institute, and team physician for the University of Miami Intercollegiate Athletics and the Miami Marlins, the research team used a stationary bike with alternating workload intensity to show if there was an improvement in fitness that could help preserve and improve cardiac function.

A wearable electronic device called an accelerometer tracked participants’ sedentary time, steps/day, and moderate-vigorous exercise for 1 week during structured cardiovascular fitness testing.

Testing was repeated after 8 years.

Nolan further explained that the researchers defined peak cardiorespiratory fitness as peak VO2. Peak VO2 is the highest oxygen uptake attained during fitness testing.

Nolan said researchers found through measurements and calculations that increasing average steps/day or moderate-vigorous physical activity appears to correlate with improved measures of cardiorespiratory fitness.

Also, regardless of time, sedentary, combined steps/day, and moderate-vigorous activity increases appear to be the best for health.

Moderate-vigorous exercise can be calculated as a percentage of maximum heart rate (HR), Henry said.

“Specifically, the American College of Sports Medicine describes moderate intensity as 64 to 76 percent of maximum heart rate,” he said, “while vigorous exercise is 77 to 95 percent of maximum HR.”

With a moderate-intensity workout, you should be able to hold a conversation while exercising.

However, with vigorous exercise, few words would be sustainable, he said.

“The term ‘moderate-vigorous’ used in the paper represents a combination where the participant oscillates between the heart rate zones described above,” said Henry.

In general, you should still be able to have a conversation but may require a pause to catch your breath to complete a sentence, Nolan explained.

Activities such as mowing the lawn, taking a bike ride, or running could all be classified as being moderate-vigorous exercise, he said.

Henry said we could obtain “substantial health benefits” by performing 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity exercise.

He recommends, though, a phased approach in increasing exercise volume. He suggests speaking with a sports medicine specialist for advice.

Nolan agreed. “Start slow and increase as you are able,” he said. “If you have 30 minutes this week, that’s a great start.”

Nolan also suggested increasing your steps per day, trying to increase 10 percent each week.

“If you have questions/concerns or other medical issues, reach out to your doctor prior to starting,” he advised. “They may be able to help create a plan or get you set with someone that can.”

“Make your health a priority, and you will see benefits,” he concluded.