Any activity is better than no activity when it comes to losing weight, and while certain activities are more effective than others, one factor they share is intensity. Exercise intensity simply describes how hard one is exercising. Walking is less intense than jogging; sprinting is extremely intense when compared to jogging. All of them will burn calories, but walking burns far fewer than sprinting. The problem is that sprinting cannot be sustained for long periods of time, and walking may not burn enough calories. The solution is sustaining a moderate heart rate for the duration of the exercise (no matter what it is) for 20 minutes or more; this is accomplished by knowing and monitoring one’s target heart rate.
Going full blast doing anything will not last long; not long enough to burn a significant number of calories, that is. By working in the 70 to 80 percent range of the heart's maximum, intensity is elevated but sustainable for extended periods.
Heart Rate Old-School Style
Calculate maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. This equals your maximum heart rate.
Multiply the maximum by 0.7. This is equal to 70 percent of the maximum.
Multiply the maximum by 0.8 to determine 80 percent of the maximum.
Take your pulse rate during exercise periodically to ensure that it is in the working range. Target heart-rate calculators are available online and will do the math for you.
Heart Rate in the Modern Age
Heart-rate monitors are available that have two parts: a chest strap and a watch. They do the math and take pulse rates, providing instant feedback at a glance.
Models starting at $30 to $40 provide basic information; those priced at $1,000 and beyond have all the bells and whistles such as computer software to track workout progress.
Bumping up the intensity to levels higher than the working rate for short bursts (called intervals) and then returning to the lower (0.7) level will burn additional calories. Some examples are walking briskly and introducing short periods of running, cycling at a medium pace and boosting speed for 50 or 100 yards, or jogging around a track and sprinting at one corner.
Intervals place greater demands on the heart and lungs and should be used sparingly to prevent overexertion.
An additional way to monitor progress and to head off overexertion and illness is to check your resting pulse daily. This is done in two parts: First check your pulse rate before getting out of bed, and then check it a second time after standing for 20 seconds.
Subtract the lying rate from the standing rate, and track this figure daily. If it is 5 beats higher than the previous day, it is a sign to take it easy. If it is 5 or higher for several days, take a break from exercise for one or more days.