Is It Better to Work Out Harder or Longer?

There has long been a debate over the best way to maximize the benefits of your exercise. Everything from hyper-specific exercise routines to guided gym classes and more, almost everyone has their own strategy they swear by. But, there’s an ongoing discussion about the most effective way to workout at the fundamental level. How long is the perfect workout session? Logic would dictate that the longer you work out, the more exercise you’re getting. More exercise means more calories burned and more results, right?

That argument is at a bit of a standstill, though. As you’ll read in this article, there is a growing body of evidence that shorter, but more intense workouts may be more effective than longer, less intense exercises. However, it’s not as simple as that, because there is also recent evidence that may point to the opposite, which is that moderate exercise done at length is better than short but intense workouts. So, what can we make of this, and how should you be working out to get the most out of your exercise?

High-Intensity, Shorter Workouts

Regular readers of Medicareful Living will be familiar with some of the evidence and arguments for a shorter, but more intense workout. We talked about how you can fit a suitable workout into your busy schedule by taking advantage of micro-workouts, but for the best evidence in support of intense bursts of exercise, look no further than HIIT workouts. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) routines are exercises performed in short bursts of intense effort mixed with short rest periods. Research into these workouts found that they may have similar, if not the same, benefits as a workout that’s twice as long!

Another study found that participants who engaged in the most active level of exercise saw their risk of developing metabolic syndrome drop by two-thirds.

Recent evidence has backed up the value of not only HIIT workouts, but also having shorter, more intense exercise sessions. One 2016 study had two groups of formerly sedentary men, one that had a steady, 45-minute routine and the other an intense, 10-minute routine. In under a quarter of the time exercised, the 10-minute group had similar, if not better, results. Another study found that participants who engaged in the most active level of exercise saw their risk of developing metabolic syndrome drop by two-thirds. When looking specifically at HIIT workouts again, one study found that the benefits weren’t specifically tied to the calories burned, either. In the study, the results showed that HIIT workouts also helped suppress appetite, which may aid the exercisers from compensatory eating, or indulging a little extra as a reward.

Low-Intensity, Longer Workouts

The case isn’t closed, however. There are still those who argue that longer workouts at a lower intensity are better for you in the long run than higher intensity workouts. In fact, one study found that while there were short term benefits to high intensity workouts, it may not increase your longevity. Alternatively, moderate workouts were found to lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, while the same study didn’t find the same results for intense workouts. Furthermore, lower intensity workouts were found to have the most positive effect on your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Finally, a more recent study showed evidence that moderate, half-hour workouts had the biggest impacts on blood pressure, body fat, and other aspects of metabolism.

You may find it easier to regularly exercise with a lighter routine, since your body won’t be put under as much stress each workout.

Beyond academic studies, you may find other reasons why a longer workout at a reasonable pace is preferable. For example, you may find it easier to regularly exercise with a lighter routine, since your body won’t be put under as much stress each workout. This is especially true if you’re just starting to get fit again. Who hasn’t promised to get fit, started a new routine, and in their excitement, pushed themselves a little too hard? Afterward, they take a few days off to recover and fall out of rhythm. It’s certainly happened to us.

The Bottom Line

This last example hints at the most important point you can take from this entire article. The type of workout that is most effective is the one that is right for you. As another article on this topic eloquently points out, there is “more than one road [that] leads to Rome.” There just isn’t a single way to go about achieving fitness that works for everyone, but this isn’t bad news. Instead, it means that you have options to discover what works for you personally. After all, some experts believe that different amounts of exercise can benefit you in different ways.

What is most important when figuring out your exercise routine is to find one that you can sustain in the long term.

It goes even deeper than that, though. What is most important when figuring out your exercise routine is to find one that you can sustain in the long term. For some people, these will be longer workouts at a milder pace. They may find this more sustainable since they have the time and aren’t looking to push themselves too hard. For others, like people who have a busy schedule, the idea of a tough but short workout may be appealing since it may fit better into their life. Just remember that no matter what you end up with, give yourself time to recover, since skipping rest days can actually set you back.

● ● ●

Ultimately, any exercise is better than no exercise. Whether you’re doing a HIIT workout or taking a leisurely stroll with the dog, if you’re able to maintain that fitness, you should eventually see the benefits. It all comes down to whichever works best for you.