A Complete Guide to Low-Intensity Cardio

Low intensity cardio: woman walking at the park

A Complete Guide to Low-Intensity Cardio

Low-intensity cardio refers to aerobic exercise over a longer period of time than is typical with higher-intensity training. Lower-intensity workouts might not push you to reach and sustain your maximum heart rate, but they offer benefits like weight loss, improved health, and better endurance.

Low-intensity cardio is a good option for people of all fitness levels, from beginners to seasoned athletes. Whether you’re aiming for fat loss, cardio health, or simply want to get your heart pumping, low-intensity cardio might help. And since you can use several forms of exercise for your workouts, there’s an option for everyone.

This guide explores low-intensity cardio, what it offers, and how to use it in your exercise routine. You’ll also learn a few tips to get the most from every low-intensity workout.

What Is Low-Intensity Cardio?

Low-intensity cardio typically refers to low-intensity steady-state cardio or LISS cardio. However, it can also reference low-intensity interval training (LIIT), a more accessible version of the ever-popular high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Both LISS and LIIT include low- to moderate-intensity exercise to improve health and fitness.

The primary differences between HIIT and LIIT are the length and intensity of workouts. LIIT features longer, less-intense workouts. Higher-intensity workouts are often shorter sessions that push you to your limits. In contrast, low-intensity exercise uses less effort and lasts 45 to 60 minutes or more.

When performing a low-intensity exercise, you should still be able to hold a conversation or even sing a tune. At a moderate intensity, singing will be out of the question, but you should still be able to speak. When the workouts get into vigorous or high-intensity ranges, you should be so out of breath that you can’t talk in complete sentences.

You can also gauge the intensity of your workouts by tracking your heart rate. Low-intensity exercise should keep you between 50% and 60% of your maximum heart rate (you can determine it by subtracting your age from 220). For instance, a 35-year-old would have a maximum heart rate of 185.

How Much Low-Intensity Cardio Do You Need?

Current guidelines suggest that adults aim for a weekly total of 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75–150 minutes of high-intensity exercise. Alternatively, you can aim for an equivalent combination of moderate and high-intensity workouts. 

Spread your exercise throughout the week instead of trying to get all of your minutes in one or two workouts. It’s important to include low-intensity cardio alongside moderate- and high-intensity workouts in your weekly schedule.

If you prefer low-intensity workouts, you can focus on moderate-intensity LISS exercise, keeping your heart rate between 60% and 70% of your maximum range. This can allow you to maintain your health using the types of exercise you enjoy.

Why It Works

Low-intensity exercise taxes your muscles, causing them to rely on free fatty acids, glycogen (from carbohydrates), and oxygen for energy. This helps your body become more efficient at using oxygen, increasing your physical exercise capacity. It can even improve how many calories you burn, aiding in weight loss.

Benefits of Low-Intensity Cardio Exercise

Low intensity cardio: senior couple hiking together

Low-intensity cardio is accessible to people of all fitness levels. It’s an ideal way to get the health benefits of exercising for beginners and those who require low-impact workouts. Low-intensity cardio also offers the chance to rest and avoid overtraining, which can otherwise make it difficult to reach your fitness goals.

Some other benefits of low-intensity cardio include:

Despite the weight-loss benefits, note that the widespread belief that low-intensity cardio will burn fat more efficiently is incorrect. While low-intensity cardio gets a higher percentage of energy from fat, high-intensity cardio burns more calories overall.

Types of Low-Intensity Cardio Exercises

One of the main benefits of low-intensity cardio is that you can choose from several types of exercise based on what you need and enjoy. It also includes lower-impact activities than HIIT and other intense workouts.

Here are some low-impact cardio workouts used in LISS:

  • Brisk walking
  • Hiking
  • Cycling or spinning
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Swimming
  • Rowing machine
  • Elliptical machine
  • LIIT sessions using bodyweight exercises (e.g., squats, lunges, pull ups)

Low-intensity cardio is often used on rest and recovery days, especially for beginners, to prevent the overuse of individual muscle groups and general overtraining.

Personal trainers typically include HIIT workouts for healthy clients to improve cardiovascular endurance and strength training to help build muscle strength in addition to low-intensity cardio sessions. This approach helps round out the benefits of exercise, prevent plateaus, and keep the training plan interesting.

Who Should Try Low-Intensity Cardio?

Man using a stair climber machine

Low-intensity cardio is well-suited to people of all fitness levels. Beginners can use it to start an exercise routine, and professional athletes can use it to improve endurance and prevent burnout. Most low-intensity cardio workouts are also low-impact (e.g., swimming, cycling, and elliptical machines), so it’s also suited to people who deal with joint pain.

However, check with your healthcare professional before making dramatic changes to your physical activity. Your doctor can confirm that you’re healthy enough to begin regular low-intensity cardio and help you find the best options for your body.

Low-Intensity Cardio Workout Tips and Tricks

If you’re ready to add low-intensity cardio to your workout routine, it can be as easy as taking your dog for a brisk hour-long walk every day or swimming laps at a leisurely pace at the local rec center. Best of all, you can switch the type of exercise whenever you feel the need.

Here are some tips for adding low-intensity workouts to your routine:

  • Walk more: If strict workout sessions aren’t your thing, consider aiming for 10,000 steps per day instead. At a brisk pace, this should help you stay in your target heart rate range. Try using a fitness watch to make tracking your steps and heart rate easier.
  • Take active rest days: People with regular training routines can benefit from low-intensity cardio workouts on rest days. It can help you recover and keep your muscles moving between challenging sessions. Try adding low-intensity activities like walking or swimming after exercise as a cooldown for even more benefits.
  • Track your heart rate: A fitness watch can help you track your heart rate and keep yourself in your target zone (anywhere between 50% and 70% of your max, depending on your goals). It can also help you stay motivated to maintain an active lifestyle. If you don’t have a fitness watch, find your pulse on your wrist and count your pulse for 30 seconds — double this to determine your beats per minute.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting regular low-intensity workouts. Consistency helps you get more benefits no matter what type of exercise you choose and no matter what type of workout you’re doing.

Change Your Workouts, Change Your Life

Regular low-intensity cardio is an excellent way to increase how active you are. And when you’re more active, you’ll see an improvement in your overall health and fitness levels. Just remember to support your body by eating a balanced diet, and make sure you’re getting enough protein to aid in muscle repair.

High-quality supplements make this easier by providing the nutrients your body needs in a convenient shake or bar. Look for Ingredient Optimized products designed for increased bioavailability to ensure your body can absorb the nutrients you’re paying for. We recommend trying Performix ioWhey Protein or Kaged Muscle Clean Meal. If you’d like plant-based options, try Kaged Muscle Plantein and My Protein The ioPea.