How low can you go in search of low-intensity aerobic exercise? You could sit in front of the TV for hours, with brief trips to the kitchen for snacks or to the bathroom. Unfortunately, you won't obtain many health or cardio benefits from such slothful activity. Yet other forms of low-intensity exercise, sometimes called light-intensity exercise, can be highly beneficial. You won't reap all of the benefits of moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise, which most people are advised to do on a regular basis. But as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, any exercise is better than no exercise.
You can gauge the intensity level of an aerobic activity, which forces your heart to work harder, in one of two ways, according MayoClinic.com. Low- or light-intensity aerobic exercise is done at 40 to 50 percent of your maximum heart rate. To estimate your maximum heart rate, deduct your age from 220. If you're 25, your max heart rate -- the highest number of times your heart should beat per minute when you work out -- would be 195. By using a heart rate monitor or taking your pulse, you can calculate whether you're working at low, moderate or high intensity. The low-tech way to calculate low intensity is to simply monitor how you feel. Low- or light-intensity aerobic exercise feels easy. Your breathing patterns stay roughly the same, you don't break a sweat unless it's hot or humid, and you can carry on a conversation or sing a song during the activity.
Calories Guide to Low-Intensity Exercises
When you do low-intensity activities, you burn relatively few calories; an all-out sprint burns calories at a much more rapid rate than a leisurely stroll. A list at MayoClinic.com of various exercise activities reveals that a slow bike ride, bowling, ballroom dancing, tai chi or a leisurely walk burn 200 to 300 calories per hour. In comparison, jumping rope and taekwondo burn over 700 calories in an hour, and qualify as high-intensity aerobic exercises.
More Low-Intensity Aerobic Exercises
Almost any activity that involves movement can serve as a low-intensity aerobic exercise; just move for at least 10 minutes at a time to derive cardio benefits from the activity. Gardening, watering the lawn, prowling though the aisles of a home improvement store, tossing a Frisbee, sweeping the garage and patio, chasing a toddler or walking to the store are healthy forms of low-intensity aerobic activities. As long as you keep moving, you're on the right track to better health.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, you should move for at least 10 minutes to derive cardio and other health benefits from low-intensity aerobic activities. Don't confuse low-impact with low-intensity. Low-impact exercises, such as swimming and cycling, are easier on your joints than high-impact exercises, such as running and soccer. However, low-impact exercises can be done at high levels of intensity, as you know if you've ever been a competitive swimmer or taken a spin class. If you're out of shape or you have health problems, see your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Start slowly with low-intensity exercises while you build up your level of fitness. Then you'll be ready for moderate- and eventually high-intensity cardio work, which can do wonders for your health
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.