• In the Oura App, Oura members see their Daily Movement Graph, which indicates how many minutes of each type of movement — low, medium, and high — you do in a day.
  • For example, a vinyasa yoga flow is low-intensity, a dance cardio or aerobics class is medium-intensity, and a HIIT workout would be considered high-intensity.
  • An optimal workout routine includes each of these intensities, in varying amounts. 

It’s a common misconception that you have to do high-intensity workouts to yield results. The harder, the better, right? In reality, a well-rounded exercise routine includes low, medium, and high-intensity workouts. 

A good balance of different types of movement helps keep your body active but not overworked. With Oura, you’ll be able to see how much low, medium, and high-intensity movement you get in a day in your Daily Movement Graph. This can help you balance your overall activity level and keep track of how it all adds up to your overall Activity Score.

On the Activity tab on the Oura App, you’ll notice a graph that shows your activity levels throughout the day. It’s categorized into colors:

  • White: High-intensity 
  • Light blue: Medium-intensity 
  • Blue: Low-intensity

As for real-life examples, here what those categories translate to: 

High-intensity movement includes: Medium-intensity movement includes: Low-intensity movement includes:
  • Aerobics
  • Jogging
  • Elliptical
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
80 to 100% of your maximum heart rate (MHR) 60 to 80% of your MHR < 60% of your MHR

Learn more about your maximum heart rate — and how to calculate it — here.

Most of your daily movement will come from low-intensity activity — such as walking to the coffee shop in the morning, doing housework, or taking the stairs in the subway. And that’s fantastic — it signifies that you’ve remained active throughout the day, which is vital for your overall health. As a friendly reminder, Oura members will receive Inactivity Alerts, offering a gentle nudge to stretch your legs after 50 minutes of inactivity. 

Low and medium-intensity activity is easier to maintain, so naturally, you can (and should!) do it more often. It’s also a great way to reduce stress: “The stresses of our modern hyper-connected lives mean many of us are almost permanently in this stressed fight-or-flight mode,” says Lauren Roxburgh, a certified trainer, movement and fascia expert, and founder of the Aligned Life Studio.

On the other hand, high-intensity exercise is more taxing on your body as it taps into anaerobic energy systems, so it can only be maintained for short bouts of activity. That said, high-intensity exercise is a powerful way to improve markers of your cardiorespiratory and metabolic health, like VO2 max and insulin sensitivity. Ensuring you’re getting some higher-intensity exercise can make a huge difference to your overall athletic performance.

All movement counts. Set your goals and track your activity with Oura.
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LEARN MORE: How Oura Measures Steps & Activity

Benefits of Low- and Medium-Intensity Exercise

1. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, giving your body time to “rest and digest.”

Low-intensity exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system, or “rest-and-digest” mode. When this system is activated, your heart rate and blood pressure lowers and important autonomic functions, like digestion, occur. In other words: Your body is in a state of relaxation, and “the more time you spend in this state, the healthier you are,” Roxburgh says.

READ MORE: “Mental Health Begins In The Body:” Meet the Neuroscientist Who Uses HRV to Measure the Brain-Body Connection

2. It benefits your heart health. 

Walking and other types of low-intensity exercise have been shown to improve markers of heart health. A meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that walking for 30 minutes a day, five days per week, decreases the risk of coronary heart disease by 19 percent.

Oura can track your Workout Heart Rate for walks so that you can monitor your intensity. For reference, a low-intensity walk should be 50-60% of your HRM, which for most people is around 90 to 110 bpm.

3. It’s accessible for most people.

Low-intensity exercise is suitable for lots of people, regardless of age, injury recovery, pregnancy status, or fitness level. (Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine.)

In fact, one study found that low-intensity exercise is an entryway into fitness and may prevent cardiovascular events in people with low fitness levels. Simply put, even if you’re not a big exerciser, doing some low-intensity exercise like walking can greatly improve your overall health.

4. It can promote high-quality sleep.

Low-intensity exercise is linked to better sleep quality. Studies have found that exercise reduces sleep latency — the time it takes you to fall asleep. In one study in the journal Sleep Health, researchers found that low-impact, low-intensity physical activity improved sleep quality in a group of participants.

With Oura, you can track your sleep to see how your exercise routine is impacting your sleep quality. 

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5. It can improve your recovery.

Heart rate zones one and two are considered “recovery zones,” which refers to the associated benefits of these types of exercise.  These low-intensity workouts can help to:

  • Increase blood flow, which helps to remove lactic acid and metabolic waste that has accumulated during exercise.
  • Reduce the intensity of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can accelerate the entire recovery process.
  • Keep muscles flexible during the post-workout recovery period.

RELATED: How Sleep Helps Muscle Recovery and Growth

Benefits of High-Intensity Exercise

1. It can improve your cardiorespiratory fitness.

If you want to improve your fitness levels, high-intensity exercise is the way to go. It challenges the cardiovascular system by demanding greater oxygen delivery to the working muscles.

This leads to physiological adaptations such as increased capillarization, improved cardiac output, enhanced oxygen extraction, and improved mitochondrial function, ultimately resulting in improved cardiovascular fitness. 

A 2014 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that it was twice as effective as moderate-intensity training at improving cardiorespiratory fitness.

READ MORE: How to Train Better Using HRV

2. It’s time-efficient.

You may only notice a small amount of white on your Oura Daily Movement Graph, even if you feel like you pushed yourself during your workout. Over the course of the day, it can appear minuscule in comparison to your low and medium-intensity activity – but that’s not a bad thing. The more intense a workout is, the shorter it needs to be. 

For example, Ttabata, a type of high-intensity exercise, involves a 20-second period of maximum-intensity effort, like sprinting, followed by a 10-second break. This is repeated for eight rounds, totaling four minutes.

Despite only lasting four minutes, Tabata is effective. A clinical trial compared the fitness outcomes between two groups: one who did a Tabata workout and one who did a moderate-intensity workout. The Tabata group yielded better results: they improved their speed, VO2 max, and anaerobic capacity by 28% – all key makers of cardiovascular fitness. 

3. It can promote fat burning.

Even though low-intensity exercise burns fat for fuel and high-intensity exercise burns glycogen, high-intensity exercise has a more drastic metabolic effect, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

EPOC, or the “afterburn,” happens when you’re exercising without oxygen (anaerobically). You essentially create an “oxygen debt” –  an increase in oxygen consumption and metabolic activity post-workout. This is the process of replenishing oxygen stores, clearing metabolic byproducts, and healing muscle damage, to bring your body back into balance.

A 2011 study examined this, finding that during a six-minute HIIT workout, participants burned 112 calories. But due to the afterburn effect and an elevated metabolic rate, they continued burning calories at a higher rate for 24 hours, resulting in 457 total calories burned from the six-minute workout. 

READ MORE: How Sleep Helps With Weight Management

4. It’s beneficial for your hormones.

When compared with low or moderate-intensity exercise, high-intensity exercise may have favorable hormonal effects. During high-intensity exercise, your body undergoes physiological changes that stimulate the release of various hormones, including testosterone, insulin, growth hormone, and catecholamines (such as adrenaline and noradrenaline). These hormonal responses play a role in muscle growth, insulin sensitivity, fat metabolism, and overall exercise performance.

A 2017 study supports this. Researchers put a group of male volunteers in an insulin-resistant state and then asked them to do HIIT. The researchers found that HIIT was able to counteract the increase of glucose, insulin, and free fatty acids to keep their sensitivity high. 

5. It can increase strength, power, and muscle mass.

Exercise performed at a high intensity activates a greater number of motor units and muscle fibers, leading to improved muscle recruitment, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and neural adaptations. These adaptations can increase muscle strength, force, and power, with one study concluding that high-intensity training is “an efficient training protocol, which takes less time and produces a better improvement in anaerobic power.”

READ MORE: How Sleep Helps Muscle Recovery and Growth

How Much Low, Medium, and High-Intensity Exercise Should You Get Each Week?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should aim to get:

  • At least 150–300 minutes of medium-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75–150 minutes of high-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities at medium or high intensity on two or more days a week.

The duration changes depending on the intensity of the exercise performed. Combining some low-intensity, some medium, and some high-intensity activity is optimal, according to experts

Here’s an example weekly workout routine that combines each type of activity for the recommended duration:

  • Monday: 60-minute walking performed in heart rate zone two.
  • Tuesday: 45-minute full-body weight-lifting performed in heart rate zone four.
  • Wednesday: 30-minute cycling performed in heart rate zone two.
  • Thursday 15-minute HIIT workout performed in heart rate zone five.
  • Friday: 60-minute yoga class performed in heart rate zone two.

How much low or high-intensity exercise you do depends on your current fitness level, physical capabilities, goals, age, and other factors. Ideally, follow a workout routine that keeps you healthy and active – and one that you can maintain over time!

With Oura, All Movement Counts

When it comes to exercise, all movement matters. Oura tracks your movement, and every step you take throughout the day counts towards your Activity Score. Whether it’s an afternoon walk, running around after your children, HIIT, or weight training – integrating a variety of movement into your daily life helps you stay healthy and active.

Use Oura to keep your activity well-rounded and balanced, to know when it’s a good idea to push yourself, and when to take it easy.

READ MORE: Is It Good to Have a High Heart Rate During a Workout?