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Are you working hard, or hardly working?

When my brother calls me and I pick up the phone, he quite frequently asks if I’m working hard or hardly working. Then he laughs at his own joke. My answer is always: I’m working hard. I don’t want him to think otherwise.

When it comes to your exercise, are you working hard or hardly working? Does it matter? My philosophy is that when it comes to exercise, frequency is king. Intensity really doesn’t matter if I’m not exercising to begin with.

Health is born out of consistency, not intensity.

A 2002 study conducted by Perri and colleagues1 examined how our views on exercise intensity can make or break our health. Participants in the study were randomly assigned to a physician-advice control group or to one of four exercise training groups, as follows:

  1. Moderate intensity / moderate frequency (walking 3-4 days per week)
  2. Moderate intensity / higher frequency (walking 5-7 days per week)
  3. Higher intensity / moderate frequency (high target heart rate 3-4 days/week)
  4. Higher intensity / higher frequency (high target heart rate 5-7 days/week)

What they discovered is that the “moderate intensity / higher frequency” group actually completed the most exercise over a six-month period. In other words, those who walked more frequently at a moderate intensity tended to stick with it and racked up more miles . This is a significant finding, especially given that “lack of time” is the most common reason given for not exercising. The study also found that those in both “higher intensity” groups had more trouble adhering to their walking requirements, so they completed less exercise during the same time period.

I wonder if more people would “exercise” if they knew that they would reap the benefits by just doing it, regardless of how hard they worked. Walking even three times a week has been associated with consistent improvements in health status (Foulds et al., 2014)2. There are enough barriers to exercise. Let’s not make exercise intensity one of them.

As we embrace our “inner age” and becoming biologically younger through exercise, let’s be proud of “hardly working”–although I mean that loosely. I know that getting out and off of our seats can be difficult, but if your “intensity belief system” is stopping you from exercising, I hope reading this article helps.

Celebrate it when you move. And know that when you move, you are reaping health benefits!

1 Perri, M.G. et al., “Adherence to exercise prescriptions: Effects of prescribing moderate versus higher levels of intensity and frequency.” Health Psychology , vol. 21, no. 5, 2002.
2 Foulds, H.J.A. et al., “Exercise Volume and Intensity: A  dose-response relationship with health benefits.” European Journal of Applied Physiology , vol. 114, no. 8, 2014.

Jason Hagen