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Health Hub

Does walking count as Zone 2 cardio?

You don't have to constantly be in the toughest zone to get an effective workout.

Is Walking Zone 2 Cardio? | Juniper

Whether your goal is losing weight, improving your fitness, or just supporting your overall health and mood, chances are you have been told to do some cardio workouts, that they're good for  your health, and that there are many different types of cardio exercises you can try.

But what you might not know is that there are also different 'zones' of cardio [1].

What's more, you don't have to constantly be in the toughest zone to get an effective workout and achieve results including fat loss and improving your fitness.

In this article, we'll specifically be looking at zone 2 training, whether walking counts as zone 2 training, and how to tell which zone you're actually in when you're working out.

What is zone 2 cardio?

Zone 2 training refers to an aerobic workout at a low-to-moderate intensity that you can maintain for an extended period of time.

For most of us, our resting heart rate sits between 60-100 beats per minute [2]. When we exercise, the beats per minute increase.

There are different heart rate zones when it comes to exercise, and they range from 1-5 [3]. Zone 1 refers to low intensity, where you are at 50-60% of your maximum heart rate. At the other end of the spectrum, in zone 5 you would be at 80-90% of your max heart rate — think all-out sprinting.

During zone 2 training, you should be at roughly 60-70% of your max heart rate.

The 5 zones can be complicated as it is somewhat individual and can be affected by a number of factors, but a basic formula for calculating your max heart rate is 220 minus your age. So if you are 40 years old, your maximum would be about 180, and zone 2 would range from around 108 to 126.

Some types of zone 2 training can be a brisk walk, easy jog, swimming or cycling at a steady pace.

Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners or triathletes, actually complete most of their training in zone 2, but it's not just for elite athletes — it has many health benefits for all of us.

What are the benefits of zone 2 cardio?

There are many benefits of zone 2 cardio for fitness, fat burning, and general health.

For one thing, because you're not exerting yourself too much, you can do it more often. When you do higher-intensity training, for example, you might feel exhausted or have sore muscles for several days, meaning you need to take more rest before your next workout [4].

But with slightly lower-intensity workouts, you are more likely to be able to maintain a regular exercise routine — particularly if you are just starting out or getting back into it after a bit of a break.

Zone 2 training also has major benefits when it comes to weight loss and overall fitness.

It can promote fat burning, support metabolic health and mitochondrial function, and help prevent cardiovascular disease as your fitness improves. It has also been found to improve oxygen uptake and aerobic capacity, lower blood sugar and — along with strength training — improve insulin sensitivity in those who struggle with insulin [5][7].

It's not just physical though — moderate exercise can also have mental health benefits and improve general well-being [6].

Does zone 2 cardio help burn body fat?

In the past, messages on social media and in society have indicated that high-intensity exercise is the only way to effectively burn fat.

But in reality, moderate activity like lower-intensity cardio is also effective when it comes to burning fat. In fact, low to moderate exercise intensity can burn more calories from fat as the body uses fat for energy [3].

So if your goal is to reduce body fat and boost fitness, zone 2 cardio could be an effective type of exercise, particularly when paired with complementary lifestyle factors.

Embarking on a health journey can be challenging, and if you're feeling a little overwhelmed, Juniper's Weight Reset Programme could be a helpful place to start. The programme is tailored to suit your specific needs and involves consultations with clinicians, dietician-led coaching and support, and GLP-1 medication for those eligible.

The medication helps slow your stomach emptying and keeps you fuller for longer, while also limiting cravings and lowering your 'set point' of weight, improving your body's ability to lose weight. When paired with sustainable exercise — such as zone 2 training — and healthy nutritional choices, the programme will help you form habits that stick and change your body composition in a healthy way you can maintain.

Is walking zone 2 cardio?

As we've mentioned above, it can be tricky to make an exact judgement about what is or isn't zone 2 training as it will vary from person to person depending on things like your age, aerobic base, and resting heart rate.

Generally speaking, however, some types of walking can be categorised as zone 2 training.

If you're strolling along at a leisurely pace, for example, this would be categorised as very low intensity and would probably be zone 1.

But if you pick up the pace and are walking briskly, or up steep hills, this is likely to increase your heart rate and move you into zone 2 cardio.

If you need a pace goal, the NHS categorises brisk walking as walking at a pace of about 3 miles per hour.

How often should you do zone 2 cardio?

During a more intense exercise, such as sprinting or a competitive game of sport, your heart rate will increase significantly, taking you into higher heart rate zones. You should not be training in these higher rate zones for extended periods of time or every single day.

On the other hand, during zone 2 training, you should not be exerting yourself to the point of exhaustion or pain, so you can theoretically do it every day if you want.

Adults are recommended to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, which should be spread evenly throughout the week [8]. If most or all of your exercise is zone 2 training, you can do it most days — or every day if you want.

Is 30 minutes of walking in zone 2 enough?

Any physical activity is beneficial for you, especially if you're getting outside in the fresh air, but in order to boost your fitness it is important to make sure you have enough time spent in zone 2.

If your goals are based around fat loss and improving metabolic health, and you are starting from a very sedentary lifestyle, you could see results from just a couple of 30-minute walks each week.

As we've mentioned above, you should be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This means if your zone 2 training sessions (i.e. your brisk walks) are only 30 minutes long, you should do them a minimum of 5 times per week if you aren't doing other workouts.

An ideal workout routine or 'split' involves a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training, so you could alternate between walks and gym sessions to get the maximum amount of health benefits.

If you're not sure how to structure an exercise programme, we suggest speaking to a health professional.

How to determine if you're walking in zone 2

If you're new to heart rate zones, and training and structuring your fitness routine this way, calculating which zone you're in might seem complicated.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can figure it out.

One simple way is through wearable tech, like a heart rate monitor on a chest strap, or a smartwatch (such as an Apple watch or a Garmin) that measures your heart rate.

If you prefer not to rely on technology, you can also estimate whether your brisk walking is in zone 2 based on your perceived exertion.

Another popular way to determine if you're in zone 2 is the talk test. The talk test is simple — you should be able to hold a conversation and speak in full sentences in zone 2 cardio [8]. If you can't talk, you might unintentionally be doing a high-intensity workout.

On the other hand, if you can sing a whole song, that's a sign your walk is low intensity — and while it is probably still very pleasant, it might not be as effective at fat burning.

Remember, when it comes to health and fitness, everybody's needs and journey are unique, so it is important to speak with a medical professional before beginning a new diet or exercise regime.