Why low-intensity exercise can help with weight loss

Why low-intensity exercise can help with weight loss

Why low-intensity exercise can help with weight loss

Could low and steady win the race? Yes. Meet LISS, and how to try it for your next workout.

Morgan Pavon, MS, RD, LD
Last updated:
January 27, 2023
5 min read
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You may have heard of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but do you know about LISS? It’s a fancy way of saying low-intensity steady-state cardio. We’re talking about a nice walk or not-too-tough spin down your local bike path. And while HIIT has gotten a lot of buzz because it’s quick, intense, and boosts cardio health, a LISS (low-intensity steady-state) workout has many of the same health benefits—if not more, in our opinion!—and your joints might thank you for making the switch. 

Here’s what you need to know—and how to get started. 

What is LISS? 

LISS is a low-intensity cardio workout that you do at a steady, moderate pace for at least 30 to 60 minutes a session. 

Just because “low-intensity” is in the name doesn’t mean you’re not working. In fact, the goal is to reach a target heart rate of 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. (If your smartwatch doesn’t tell you these deets, think of it as exercising hard enough to break a little sweat but not so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation.)  

The benefits of LISS

So what is it about this type of movement that could help your weight care journey? Check out the science-backed perks:

Weight loss

There is an ongoing debate about whether LISS or HIIT should be your go-to when it comes to weight loss. The thing is, they’re both great options, and it really depends on your preference. But one study published in Obesity Reviews found no difference in weight or fat loss between those who did LISS workouts versus HIIT, as long as the calorie burn was the same. So, you may have to log more sweaty minutes with LISS, but the results are comparable.

Compared to HIIT, however, LISS may reduce and redistribute visceral fat (the dangerous abdominal fat surrounding your organs), which is an important predictor of your metabolic health. 

Improved aerobic fitness and energy 

LISS can lead to better stamina during workouts and help your body use oxygen more efficiently—meaning that your workouts could last longer without you wearing out as quickly. One study found that those who participated in a total of 24 steady-state exercise sessions over eight weeks had significant improvements in VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses during exercise) and peak power output (the greatest amount of work over a period of time). That can translate into a stronger heart, increased energy, and improvements in other measures of good health. 

Easier recovery

Because it’s low-intensity, LISS is a good choice for beginners and those with joint pain or who are prone to injury. It puts less stress on your body than more intense types of movement, and the recovery time can be quicker. So you can get right back to it without being sore as you would with HIIT workouts. 

In fact, a small study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2021 found that too many HIIT sessions affected the body on a cellular level and led to extreme fatigue.

A more relaxing way to exercise

The calorie burn is a plus, but many of us work out to manage stress from work, improve our health, and socialize with friends. And low-intensity exercise may be more enjoyable than those HIIT sessions. (In one study, those who did HIIT enjoyed exercising less than those doing LISS workouts ). And that’s no small benefit. Because we all know that we’re more likely to continue something we find joy in! 

Examples of LISS and how to get started

Ready to try it? We’re glad to hear! Some types of LISS include doing these activities at a moderate pace: 

  • Walking
  • Elliptical
  • Swimming laps 
  • Dancing
  • Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga
  • Shooting baskets
  • Rowing 
  • Walking up and down the stairs

You can start with as little as 10 minutes of movement a day—and add five minutes from week to week.

How much should you be exercising? 

For those on a weight care journey, 200 to 300 minutes per week of low to moderate-intensity exercise appears to be optimal for weight loss and maintenance. Make that time fun by catching up with a friend while you hit the trail for a walk, or hopping on your stationary bike while you watch the new episode of Yellowstone

Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to increase the intensity or length of your workout over time to keep challenging your body. But you can’t argue with getting stronger and fitter!


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Published date:
January 27, 2023
Meet the author
Morgan Pavon, MS, RD, LD
Health writer

Sources

  • Target Heart Rates Chart. (2022, July 19). www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/target-heart-rates
  • Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate | Physical Activity | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm
  • Bellicha, A., Baak, M. A., Battista, F., Beaulieu, K., Blundell, J. E., Busetto, L., Carraça, E. V., Dicker, D., Encantado, J., Ermolao, A., Farpour‐Lambert, N., Pramono, A., Woodward, E., & Oppert, J. (2021). Effect of exercise training on weight loss, body composition changes, and weight maintenance in adults with overweight or obesity: An overview of 12 systematic reviews and 149 studies. Obesity Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13256
  • Keating, S. E., Machan, E. A., O’Connor, H. T., Gerofi, J. A., Sainsbury, A., Caterson, I. D., & Johnson, N. A. (2014). Continuous Exercise but Not High Intensity Interval Training Improves Fat Distribution in Overweight Adults. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/834865
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  • Flockhart, M., Nilsson, L. C., Tais, S., Ekblom, B., Apró, W., & Larsen, F. J. (2021). Excessive exercise training causes mitochondrial functional impairment and decreases glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers. Cell Metabolism, 33(5), 957-970.e6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2021.02.017
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