Fat Burning - Is Low-Intensity Exercise Really a Solution?

In this blog we explore the science behind low-intensity exercise, its benefits for fat burning, and practical ways to incorporate it into your fitness routine.

Understanding Fat Burning and Energy Systems

Before diving into the specifics of low-intensity exercise, it's essential to understand how the body burns fat. The body uses a combination of carbohydrates and fat as fuel sources during exercise. The proportion of these fuels used depends on the intensity and duration of the activity.

Let's take a look at some of the key points on fat burning.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic:

Low-Intensity Exercise (Aerobic): This type of exercise primarily uses fat as a fuel source because it requires oxygen to break down fat for energy. Activities such as walking, cycling at a leisurely pace, and yoga fall into this category.

High-Intensity Exercise (Anaerobic): This type of exercise relies more on carbohydrates (glycogen) because it provides quick energy bursts without the need for oxygen. Examples include sprinting and weightlifting.

Fat Oxidation: The process of breaking down fat molecules into fatty acids and glycerol, which are then used for energy. Low-intensity exercise supports fat oxidation, making it an effective strategy for fat burning.

The Fat Burning Zone: This refers to a specific heart rate range, typically 60-70% of your maximum heart rate, where the body is more efficient at burning fat. Low-intensity exercise often keeps you within this zone.

Why Low-Intensity Exercise is Effective for Fat Burning


1. Increases Fat Oxidation

During low-intensity exercise, the body primarily uses fat as a fuel source. This is because at the lower intensities, there is enough oxygen available to convert fat into energy. Studies have shown that low-intensity exercise enhances the body's ability to oxidize fat, leading to more significant fat loss over time compared to high-intensity exercise, which burns more carbohydrates.

2. Sustained Energy Use

Low-intensity exercise can be performed for longer durations without causing excessive fatigue. This extended duration allows for a greater total amount of fat to be burned compared to shorter, high-intensity workouts. For example, walking for an hour can burn more fat than running at a high intensity for 15 minutes, even though the latter might burn more calories overall.

3. Reduce Stress and Cortisol Levels

High-intensity exercise can sometimes increase cortisol levels, which is linked to increased fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. Low-intensity exercise, on the other hand, helps reduce cortisol levels and and promotes relaxation, which can prevent stress-related fat accumulation.

4. Improves Insulin Sensitivity

Regular low-intensity exercise improves insulin sensitivity, which helps the body better regulate blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of storing excess fat. Improved insulin sensitivity means the body is more efficient at using carbohydrates for energy, leaving more fat available to be burned during exercise.

5. Enhances Muscle Efficiency

While low-intensity exercise may not build muscle mass to the same extent as strength training, it helps maintain muscle endurance and efficiency. Improved muscle efficiency means your muscles become better at utilising fat as a fuel source, further supporting fat burning.

Incorporating Low-Intensity Exercise for Fat Burning

Here we take a look at some practical ways to incorporate low-intensity exercise for fat burning.


Walking is one of the simplest and most effective forms of low-intensity exercise. It can be done anywhere and doesn't require any special equipment. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of brisk walking daily to boost fat burning and overall health.

Tip: Try to incorporate walking into your daily routine, such as walking to work, taking the stairs, or going for a walk during lunch breaks.


Leisurely cycling is a great way to burn fat without putting excessive strain on your joints. It's an excellent low-impact exercise for those with joint issues or looking for a more gentle form of aerobic activity.

Tip: Consider using a stationary bike at home or cycling outdoors on flat terrain to keep the intensity low.

Yoga and Pilates

These exercises focus on flexibility, strength, and relaxation, and they can also support fat burning by maintaining a a moderate heart rate and enhancing muscle efficiency.

Tip: Join a yoga or pilates class or follow online sessions that cater, to various fitness levels.


Swimming is a full-body workout that provides cardiovascular benefits and supports fat burning without the impact stress on your joints. It's particularly beneficial for individuals with arthritis or other joint issues.

Tip: Try to swim at a steady, moderate pace for extended periods to maximise fat burning.

Low-Intensity Cardio 

Low-intensity cardio exercises like light jogging, rowing, or using an elliptical machine can be effective for fat burning when performed at a steady pace for a prolonged duration.

Tip: Aim for 30-45 minutes of low-intensity cardio sessions, 3-4 times per week, to see significant fat loss benefits.

Balancing Low-Intensity Exercise with Other Fitness Activities

While low-intensity exercise is excellent for fat burning, it's essential to balance it with other types of physical activity for comprehensive fitness benefits. Incorporate strength training to build muscle and boost metabolism, and include high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to enhance cardiovascular fitness and increase calorie burn.

Discovering Your Fat Burning Zone with a VO2 Fat Max Test

Understanding your personal fat burning zone can significantly enhance your fitness routine and help you achieve your weight loss and body composition goals more efficiently. One of the most precise methods to identify this zone is through a VO2 fat max test. 

A VO2 fat max test is a specialised assessment that measures your body's ability to burn fat as fuel during exercise. It determines the intensity at which your body burns the maximum amount of fat. This test involves exercising at various intensities while monitoring your oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to identify the point where fat oxidation (fat burning) is at its peak.

Typically conducted on a treadmill or cycle ergometer, you will wear a face mask that is connected to a metabolic cart, which measures your breathing and gas exchange. Normally you will be fitted with a heart rate monitor to measure your heart rate. 
The test will begin at a low intensity that will increase gradually in stages throughout the test. At each stage of the test your oxygen consumption (VO2) and carbon dioxide production are measured.
This data collected during the test is then analysed to determine the intensity at which fat oxidation is highest, known as your ''fat max'' intensity. This is your optimal fat burning zone, where you are burning the most fat per minute compared to carbohydrates.
After the test you will cool down with light exercise to allow your heart rate and breathing to safely return to normal.

If you are interested in finding out your optimal fat burning zone, you can book a test at - www.bodyview.co.uk/our-services/fat-max

Ready to reach your health and weight loss goals?

Book one of our scientific tests, each tailored to help you achieve your fitness and weight loss goals.

Technoplex Ltd trading as BodyView. Company Number: 14179206

Are you sure?