Weight management is composed of numerous components. Dieting, exercise, consistency, and a change in lifestyle are all aspects to consider. Some people feel that simply eating less will help them achieve their ideal weight. This may be ideal for some, but you can also aim to increase your physical activity to contribute to a successful weight loss.
This article compares cardio vs HIIT for weight loss, as both forms of exercise are known to be effective in promoting weight loss and improving overall health and fitness. By exploring the similarities and differences between these two types of exercise, you can gain a better understanding of which may be more suitable for your needs and preferences.
What Is A Cardio Workout?
Cardio workouts are defined as any type of exercise that increases your heart rate, oxygen, and blood flow throughout your body and involves the use of big muscle groups. Cardio can assist you in losing weight if you maintain a calorie deficit.
A cardio workout should last at least 20 to 30 minutes and should be done at 60% to 70% of your maximal heart rate. Traditional cardio exercise takes longer and does not have as many high-intensity bursts of activity as HIIT programs1.
Aerobic exercise: A brisk exercise that stimulates the circulation of oxygen via the blood and is connected with an increased rate of breathing. Running, swimming, and bicycling are some examples2.
Anaerobic exercise: Anaerobic exercise literally means “without air” or “without oxygen.” It is defined as “short intense bursts of physical activity, such as weight lifting and sprinting, where oxygen demand exceeds oxygen supply.” It is powered by glycolysis, which uses energy stored in your muscles2.
Benefits Of Cardio
1. Skin, Muscles, and Weight
Being active in any way helps to enhance circulation, which leads to smoother, healthier skin. Other health benefits can extend much deeper than just your skin.
When you use your muscles, you boost your oxygen supply, allowing your muscles to function harder. Regular cardio exercise permits your muscles to adapt to an increased burden over time, making daily chores feel easier.
Regular cardio exercise, when combined with a heart-healthy nutrition plan, results in safe weight loss. Not only are you less prone to develop diseases like diabetes, some malignancies, and heart disease, but your body can also circulate blood more easily. Less sitting time and increased physical exercise also help you maintain a healthy weight by burning more calories throughout the day3.
Your mood changes on a regular basis, but staying active might help you feel better, especially after a stressful day. So, the next time you’re upset or having a bad day, begin moving.
Not only that, but it alleviates sadness, boosts self-esteem, and stimulates the release of tension-relieving hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine3.
3. Sleep and Energy
There’s a reason you feel so good after a workout. Physical activity boosts your energy by generating endorphins, which provide you with greater, longer-lasting energy throughout the day.
When it comes to hitting the covers, the last thing you want to do after a long, busy day is a struggle to fall asleep. The good news is that aerobics increases REM sleep and helps you fall asleep faster. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is important for memory consolidation, emotional regulation, restoration, and brain development.
Avoid strenuous exercise too close to bedtime or you’ll be too stimulated to count sheep.
Grab your gym clothes and your sneakers, and you’ll not only strengthen your immune system, helping you avoid the cold or flu, but you’ll also raise your chances of living longer by enhancing your cardiorespiratory fitness3.
4. Pancreas, Lungs, and Blood
Your pancreas is an organ that helps transform the food you ingest into energy while also assisting in digestion. Staying active helps improve blood sugar control, minimizes stress on this critical organ, and lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It also helps to raise healthy cholesterol levels while decreasing blood fats.
Physical activity has a favorable effect on your lungs as well. Cardio helps reduce how frequently you have to breathe as your exercise ability improves and can lead to improvements in weariness and shortness of breath in chronic lung diseases3.
5. Improved Balance
Certain forms of cardio exercise, such as dancing or martial arts, can help improve balance, coordination, and agility.
Improved balance and coordination are not only beneficial for physical fitness but also for daily activities and reducing the risk of falls, especially in older adults4.
In addition, improving balance and coordination can enhance sports performance and reduce the risk of sports-related injuries in athletes. Therefore, incorporating certain forms of cardio exercise, such as dance or martial arts, into a fitness routine can provide numerous benefits beyond cardiovascular health.
What Is A HIIT Workout?
HIIT is a sort of cardiovascular exercise, but it is done at very high-intensity levels that are combined with rest periods, or intervals, that allow your body to reach a greater heart rate for brief periods of time.
HIIT can also be classified as both an aerobic exercise during the rest periods and an anaerobic exercise during the intense activity periods.
To hit that high-intensity threshold, you should be virtually out of breath or unable to carry a conversation, which normally happens when you reach 80% of your maximum heart rate.
Some super-high-intensity HIIT workouts will push you right up to 90% or 100% of your maximum heart rate for a brief period of time to truly crank up the heat.
High-intensity exercise: performed for a minimum of 30 seconds and a maximum of three minutes. One to two minutes is the most usual time frame2.
Low-intensity exercise: completed for 30 seconds up to the maximum time the high-intensity workout is completed. If the maximum time for high-intensity is two minutes, then the minimum time for low-intensity is two minutes. It is usually done for half the amount of time as a high-intensity workout2.
Benefits Of HIIT
1. Healthier Heart
The anaerobic zone, which refers to a heart-rate zone in which you use 80%-90% of your maximum heart rate (MHR), isn’t always achieved during normal exercises. The purpose of HIIT is to get into that zone by expending all of your energy for a short period of time.
Aerobic or cardiovascular training is intended to make the heart and circulatory system healthy. Aerobic exercise is critical to optimum health5.
2. Burn More Fat
HIIT raises the resting metabolic rate for the next 24 hours after a workout. You not only burn more calories during the workout, but the high-intensity activity also drives your body’s repair cycle into high gear afterward. This means that you burn more fat and calories after a HIIT workout than you do after a steady workout5.
3. No Equipment Needed
The beautiful thing about HIIT is that you don’t need expensive equipment to gain advantages. To immediately raise your heart rate, high knees, fast feet, or anything plyometric like lunges and squats work just as well as treadmills or bicycles. In fact, some equipment, such as weights, can actually make HIIT less effective because the main focus should be on your heart, not your muscles5.
4. You Won’t Lose Muscle
Anybody who has ever tried to reduce weight knows how difficult it is to remove fat without also losing muscle mass. While cardio is an important component of fat loss, it should not be the only workout undertaken.
A HIIT program could result in greater fat reduction than steady-state exercise. A study found that, whereas HIIT training helped to develop muscle, steady-state activities actually destroyed muscle. HIIT not only burns more fat throughout the day, but it also increases muscle mass and improves metabolic function5.
5. Increase Metabolism
In addition to improved fat-burning and muscle retention, HIIT increases the production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450 percent in the 24 hours following your workout.
Human growth hormone is a testosterone booster that is naturally created in the pituitary gland and plays an important part in cell regeneration, enhanced caloric burn, growth, and the maintenance of healthy human tissue5.
Cardio vs HIIT For Weight Loss
HIIT vs. Cardio. The comparison between these two training approaches has recently heated up, with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) becoming an increasingly popular alternative to its more traditional cardio predecessor.
Cardio has always been the go-to option for individuals trying to shed a few pounds, with long runs and treadmill sessions synonymous with (sweaty) success. Many people, however, love a HIIT workout that can be done at home6.
Which Is Better For Weight Loss?
A study published in BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine7 compared high-intensity interval training (HIIT) versus moderate-intensity continuous exercise (a type of cardio, such as a steady run) to discover which was more beneficial.
The research discovered that while both training techniques resulted in similar weight reduction and improvements in cardiovascular risk variables, HIIT resulted in a more significant increase in cardiovascular fitness.
There are also two reasons why HIIT gets the upper hand when it comes to fat loss. In order to lose weight, you must combine a consistent exercise program with a good, nutritional diet, resulting in a calorie deficit.
Cardiovascular activity is fantastic for weight loss and is extremely beneficial to your health. However, HIIT training generally burns more calories. This is because high-intensity bursts boost calorie expenditure and overall calories burned, resulting in healthier body composition (the ratios of fat, muscle, and bone in your body).
The other reason is that a HIIT session can result in continuous calorie burn after your workout due to exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC). This is your body’s inherent ability to revert to homeostasis (resting state) after exertion. In EPOC, HIIT burns more calories than constant low-intensity aerobic exercise6.
Which Is Better For Building Muscle?
When it comes to muscular growth, HIIT has a definite advantage. While cardio demands a continual effort for a low-resistance activity like running, many of the activities utilized in HIIT sessions entail putting your muscles under higher mechanical tension through bodyweight movements like push-ups and loaded exercises like squats.
While certain aerobic workouts will work and strengthen your muscles, HIIT workouts typically consist of adding weights to your exercise or utilizing your body weight, which will ultimately engage your muscles harder and build more muscle.
HIIT workouts are wonderful for overall fitness, whereas cardio is primarily focused on burning overall body fat. There are also varieties, such as high-intensity resistance training (HIRT), which are specifically designed to develop muscle and burn fat6.
When it comes to weight loss, both cardio and HIIT can be effective, but they work in different ways. Choosing which either or both options is truly yours when it comes to weight reduction or workout preference.
If you do HIIT, you will burn more calories in less time, but you may stop working out completely because HIIT is hard and demanding. If you prefer cardio, you will still burn calories, but not as many as you would during HIIT, and it may take you longer to attain your fitness objectives than if you were consistent with HIIT workouts.
4 Sofianidis G, Hatzitaki V, Douka S, Grouios G. Effect of a 10-week traditional dance program on static and dynamic balance control in elderly adults. J Aging Phys Act. 2009 Apr;17(2):167-80. doi: 10.1123/japa.17.2.167. PMID: 19451666.
5 Five Benefits Of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). (2021, May 12). Genesis Health Clubs. https://www.genesishealthclubs.com/blog/fitness/five-benefits-of-high-intensity-interval-training-hiit.html
6 Bullmore, H. (2022, November 1). HIIT vs cardio: which is better for weight loss? fitandwell.com. https://www.fitandwell.com/features/hiit-vs-cardio-which-is-better-for-weight-loss7 D’Amuri, A., Sanz, J. M., Capatti, E., Di Vece, F., Vaccari, F., Lazzer, S., Zuliani, G., Nora, E. D., & Passaro, A. (2021). Effectiveness of high-intensity interval training for weight loss in adults with obesity: a randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, 7(3), e001021. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2020-001021
7 D’Amuri, A., Sanz, J. M., Capatti, E., Di Vece, F., Vaccari, F., Lazzer, S., Zuliani, G., Nora, E. D., & Passaro, A. (2021). Effectiveness of high-intensity interval training for weight loss in adults with obesity: a randomised controlled non-inferiority trial. BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine, 7(3), e001021. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2020-001021