Fitness Articles

The Best Fat-Burning Advice

Get the Facts to Burn the Fat

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Exercising at Lower Intensity Levels for Longer Durations

Fat-burning claim: Exercising at lower intensity levels and for a longer duration burns more fat than moderate- to high-intensity exercise. People who subscribe to this theory use some of the same facts above regarding the source of fuel for various levels of exercise intensity. Further adding "credibility" to these claims, many cardio machines have "fat burning" workouts or programs, which have you exercising at lower heart rates.

Fat-burning fact: While it is a fact that low-intensity activities use more fat as fuel, this theory doesn’t hold up unless you can devote several hours every day to exercise. It’s important not to confuse percentage of fat burned with total amount of fat burned. Let's look at three examples of fuel usage, at three different intensity levels, and see which actually burns the most fat:
  • High-intensity exercise (about 70% max heart rate): 33% of the energy you use comes from fat and 66% comes from glucose. You're burning about 600 calories per hour (200 calories from fat).
  • Low-intensity exercise (about 50-60% max heart rate): Your ratio of fat to glucose usage is about 50-50. You're burning about 350 calories per hour (175 calories from fat).
  • Sitting still (resting heart rate): 66% of the energy you use comes from fat and 33% comes from glucose. You're burning about 90 calories per hour (60 calories from fat).
Fat-burning tip: Most of us can only manage about one hour of high-intensity exercise, but could handle several hours of low-intensity exercise like walking. Exercising at lower intensity levels for longer durations only burns more fat IF you have at least two hours to spend on that activity. However, low-intensity exercise also offers fewer general health benefits and won't help you improve your cardiovascular fitness level. If you’ve got two hours to spend on cardio your best bet is to get the best of both worlds by doing an hour each of higher and lower intensity exercise.

Making Strength Training More Important than Cardio

Fat-burning claim: You’ve heard it a million times—muscle burns more calories than fat, even while you’re sitting still. So when it comes to losing weight, strength training is more important than cardio.

Fat-burning fact: Part of this is true. A pound of muscle, at rest, burns about three times as many calories as a pound of fat, which by nature is pretty much always “at rest.” But whether or not strength training should be the only (or main) focus of your fitness program depends on what the numbers really say.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I subscribed to some of these thoughts. I do spend a lot of time at the gym, normally 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 mins. I'm a type A personality, lol.

    Geterdone! - 8/31/2014 3:03:24 PM
  • I liked your article but if you don't live in a bubble, the 2 hours of exercise is very unrealistic.

    10-20 min. a day maybe twice a day is achievable to most people, but no real marathon runners unless it's after work.

    It seems the article is putting down those who cannot devote longer periods of time to exercise. Some don't have endurance yet and need to build up to it. Others have health concerns that limit their participation for long periods of time.

    Just a thought. - 8/6/2014 9:30:56 AM
  • BCLEMENT
    Are there really people that have 2 hours a day to spend exercising? Really? Do they have jobs? Do they have a life outside the gym? I'd love to know who has this kind of time, I'll consider a career change. - 5/5/2014 9:29:48 AM
  • DADKAJ
    Just adding a bit to the claim of exercising on an empty stomach or early morning: this has been found to be effective in switching metabolism towards fat burning in athletes, hence sparing some extra glycogen for endurance exercise. Therefore the exercise on empty stomach DOES help to burn more fat but this is of no real value to general public trying to lose weight. - 5/4/2014 4:48:41 AM
  • Love the way this article is written! It makes so much sense in writing....now, to apply the principles in day to day life..... THAT, my friend, is the challenge! - 10/10/2013 10:26:52 AM
  • Thanks for sharing - 9/26/2013 7:06:30 AM
  • PEACENCARROTS
    Glad I know fact from fiction now. - 9/19/2013 10:56:19 AM
  • I have questions and just noticed the comment just above. I want to save this article and share it. I am going to the message boards to ask how. Maybe someone else already has asked. Thank you for this article. - 5/12/2013 9:43:12 AM
  • Balance. It always comes back to that. - 5/12/2013 7:48:39 AM
  • Dean, thanks for this great article. I have had an idea about a few, but as you put it all in perspective it makes so much more sense. I really enjoyed learning more about this. - 4/22/2013 10:22:20 AM
  • PIPSYPOP
    Thank you for clarifying all these points. I appreciate the thoroughness. You have answered many of questions about my fitness routine. - 4/9/2013 11:09:44 PM
  • Really good article. Thank you! - 4/9/2013 9:56:48 PM
  • YOOVIE
    LMAO - 4/9/2013 4:48:20 PM
  • I love this article! It's so helpful. With all the information out there now, it can be difficult to decide which parts to digest and which parts to spit out.
    Thank You!
    ps...I would love to get my hands on that combination stepper/elliptica
    l tthat is pictured!
    Any suggestions? - 4/9/2013 3:54:30 PM
  • JGMARIE80
    Thanks for all the tips you have shared. Great info. - 3/27/2013 5:19:57 PM
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