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The Magic of Moderate Exercise

High-intensity training may get all the hype, but taking your workout down a notch (or 10!) may help you de-stress, sleep better, gain energy, and improve health.

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The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate exercise each week. If you do the math, that translates to getting your ticker pumping up to 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday. Your trainer or fitness-buff friend may recommend supplementing your workouts with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), power lifting, or another form of hard-as-hell exercise (the kind that make fitness magazine headlines), so that you can see results more quickly. While it may be enticing for some to test their physical limits, this doesn’t mean you should toss out moderate exercise like an old pair of running shoes.

Here are some science-supported reasons why moderately intense activities—like yoga, walking briskly, or biking around town—will never go out of style and may actually be best for your body.

Moderate exercise is good for immunity.

You may have heard of extreme athletes overdoing it to the point they actually make themselves sick. This is not the case with moderate activity. A single session of moderate intensity exercise is actually “immune-enhancing,” according to one recent study from the University of Houston. One hypothesis as to why: Exercise reduces inflammation and stress, among other factors.

Moderate exercise reduces anxiety.

Stewing in the agony of feeling overwhelmed at your desk won’t improve your situation. However, working out the pent-up pressure, literally, over the course of a 30-minute, moderately paced activity may help you stay calm when facing stress triggers. That’s the takeaway from a University of Maryland study, which compared anxiety levels at the start of the study and after 30 minutes of sitting still or cycling, and then again after having subjects see unpleasant photos. The visual stimuli was less likely to induce anxiety in those who had exercised compared to the sedentary group.


Related: How Yoga and Meditation Help Me Manage Anxiety


Moderate exercise helps you sleep.

It’s no surprise that you sleep well after a long and intense bout of exercise or manual labor. But you needn’t build a whole fence in a day—or run a marathon—to reap the rewards. Women who walked at a moderate pace for just shy of 60 minutes woke up less frequently throughout the night and were awake for shorter periods of time than those who did nothing throughout the day, according to a study from the University of South Carolina.

Moderate exercise improves your mood.

A runner’s high may be hard won after jogging 10 miles, but a milder form of euphoria can come from milder exercise. In fact, the harder you work when you exercise, the more you may negate these automatic good feelings, according to a study from Chicago State University. Researchers found that among regular exercisers, those who exercised at a low to moderate level were happier overall compared to those who worked out harder.

Moderate exercise is good for memory.

Keep losing your keys? Going for a walk or taking a yoga class might help you recall where you put them. After 30 minutes of moderate exercise, men performed better on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning than they had before being active, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.

Moderate exercise reduces hunger.

It seems like you would eat even more after a workout—after all, you just burned a bunch of calories. But you may actually eat less. A group of young men who did moderate exercise right before lunch ate 11 percent fewer calories than those who didn’t exercise, according to a Canadian study. Those who worked out mid-morning then had lunch two hours later dished out a whole 23 percent fewer calories.

Moderate exercise boosts your energy.

Is your mid-afternoon eye droop making it harder to read your work email? Going for a short walk around the block may zap your need for a power nap. Getting your heart rate up can make you feel more energized and alert throughout the day, according to a study from the University of Georgia. Researchers had healthy young adults, who reported feeling fatigued, exercise at a low- to moderate-rate three times a week for six weeks. By the end of the study, they reported feeling less tired and more energized than before.

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  • Use the power of your breath to warm up naturally! Take a deep breath, but rather than consciously exhaling and pushing the air out, just sort of “let it go." Take 10 breaths like this in a row, trying to go a little bit deeper with each successive inhale, but putting no force behind your exhalation. After your tenth breath, take in one more deep breath, and this time hold it in. Engage the muscles in your chest, back, and shoulders, as if you were using them to give the air inside your lungs a firm hug. You may notice a warm, tingling sensation inside your chest.
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