long-term inefficiency of cardiovascular exercise

We have over the years been made to think that low-intensity cardiovascular exercises were the best methods to shed extra body fat. So, naturally the first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they want to start losing weight is whether to go power walking, jogging, cycling, skipping or even swimming to mention but a few.

There are actually studies which indicate that the lower the intensity of the exercise, the more the "percentage" of fat that will be used as fuel for the muscles. So when doing low-intensity cardiovascular exercises, your body basically functions in a "fat burning" zone which usually burns more fat than when you are exercising at higher intensity.

Consequently, engaging in cardiovascular exercises normally works within your "target heart rate zone" for fat burning – your fat burning zone. You normally get to this zone when you are at about 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. When in the fat burning zone, the calories you’d be burning will be in the following ratio: fats – 85%; carbohydrates – 10%; and proteins – 5%.

So, you may ask, why all the fuss if you can burn more fat at low-intensity than at high-intensity? Confusing, yes at first, but let’s prod a little bit more.

To understand why low-intensity cardiovascular exercises are somewhat inefficient in assisting you achieve long-term permanent weight loss, you need to know where the energy you are using during the exercise is coming from.

Normally for your muscles to function especially while exercising, they require energy which is gotten from proteins, carbohydrates, or fats in your system. These energy sources are normally found in two major places in your body which are – your blood stream and your muscles.

Carbohydrates which are the primary source of energy for the body exist in the blood stream as glucose while they are found in the muscles in the form of glycogen – a mixture of glucose and water. The muscles generally prefer to hold on to their internal stores of glycogen and give them up only when absolutely necessary.

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However, fat is generally stored in the body tissues in the form of triglycerides. Fats need to go through oxidation – fat burning process – before they can be released into the blood stream as energy fuel. Fats are also known to require more oxygen to burn than carbohydrates.

When you start exercising, the body gets into what is called "fight or flight" mode – its automatic response to threats or physical stress such as exercise – and secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine. Both of these chemicals activate hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) – a specialized enzyme of fat metabolism. This enzyme carries out a process called Lipolysis by breaking apart the triglycerides – your body’s fat stores.

Due to the fact that low-intensity activities are not difficult for the body to cope with although it is stressed, it uses the process of Lipolysis to release fat stores from the body tissues into the blood stream as energy fuel rather than use up the already available carbohydrates in the blood stream.

Lipolysis – oxidation of body fat – would therefore seem to be the ideal way to go about losing extra body fat, right? Well, to a degree yes, except for the fact that this process stops almost immediately after you stop your cardiovascular exercise as it has a "burn off" effect. This is the major limitation of cardiovascular exercise – the fact that the fat burning process of lipolysis only last while you are exercising and just a little more during your recovery phase.

Look at it this way. For every mile an average man runs, he expends about 100 calories and most women even less. With about 3,500 calories in one pound of fat, the average person would therefore need to run about 35 to 45 miles or engage in about six to ten hours of continuous activity to use up this energy. Do you now realize why so many people spend so much time in the gym and see just little improvements doing cardiovascular exercises?

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Apart from the "burn off" effect, cardiovascular exercises may also cause lean muscle loss. Remember that the fat used for lipolysis came from your body tissues including muscle tissues in which they are stored as triglycerides. Since they were used up during your low-intensity cardio exercise, your legs may burn and muscle soreness may occur. This happened because the intensity of the exercise was not strong enough to trigger the body’s self-protective mechanism which would have protected the muscles.

A loss in lean muscle means a reduction in your BMR – translating to a reduction in your metabolism – which is often why you might find yourself putting on some weight even when you eat the same amount of food and doing your low-intensity cardio exercises.

So, while you not only spend so much time doing cardiovascular exercises and losing just modest of amount of body fat, you can also end up losing some lean muscles in the process. With low-intensity cardiovascular exercises, there are not too many benefits for all the hard work.

However, what if, there was a way to keep lipolysis – your fat burning process – running continuously for more than 24 hours after you stop exercising? Wouldn’t that be an incredible boost to your weight loss effort? Luckily, there is such an exercise technique and it is called High Intensity Interval Training – HIIT for short. You need to check it out!