Which contributes to greater weight loss: exercising in the "fat-burning" zone or at a higher level of intensity? The answer lies in the number of calories burned, not in which fuel substrate the body uses for energy.

To burn the most calories, you need to exercise at higher intensities. For example, you burn more calories running for 30 minutes than walking for the same amount of time. Running consumes calories from readily available fuel of carbohydrates. Walking at a more leisurely pace utilizes slower-burning fat for fuel; however, you are using fewer calories per minute than with more intense exercise.

Higher intensity exercise also offers another benefit for weight loss in that it temporarily suppresses your appetite. A recent study showed that cyclists who rode stationary bikes hard for 30 minutes consumed far fewer calories afterward than when they rode at a more moderate pace. They also had lower blood levels of the hormone ghrelin, a known appetite stimulant.

According to other new research high intensity interval training (HIIT) - short bursts of intense exercise alternating with recovery periods - may have the potential to lower abdominal fat by creating a surge in hormones that have been shown to drive fat breakdown, especially deep abdominal fat.

So studies show that high intensity exercise contributes to weight loss by burning calories, suppressing appetite and reducing abdominal fat. If you are a fan of moderate exercise, there are several ways to ramp up your program:

  • Know your heart rate training range which determines how hard you should work for light, moderate and high intensity levels.
  • To find your target training zone first find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. You should be at 80 percent of max when pushing hard (say, during the intense part of an interval) and 60 to 70 percent while moving at a steady, aerobic pace (like during a longer run).
  • Intersperse faster paced intervals into your moderate cardio activity. For instance, instead of doing 30 minutes of walking at a steady pace, do three minutes of moderate pace, alternating with three minutes of fast pace. Repeat five times for a great 30-minute walking program that burns more calories while increasing your fitness level.
  • Add intervals of cardio activity in between your strength training exercises, keeping your heart rate elevated continuously.

For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues: Simple Steps to a Better You

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