Exercise 12 MIN READ

The Effects of Mild Physical Activity on Metabolic Health

Walking helps you boost your metabolism and heart rate, which helps you burn fat, along with stimulating your digestive tract and reducing blood sugar levels when you walk after meals, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Written by Team Ultrahuman

May 21, 2022
effects mild physical

Walking helps you boost your metabolism and heart rate, which helps you burn fat, along with stimulating your digestive tract and reducing blood sugar levels when you walk after meals, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

physical health metabolic


  • Being physically active throughout the day in combination with structured endurance/resistance exercise provides greater benefits for health,
  • Fast-twitch muscle fibers contract quickly and more vigorously. They are recruited during high-intensity activities, like sprinting or lifting a really heavyweight,
  • Aerobic glycolysis is not different from the anaerobic series of reactions (fast) glycolysis. The only departure is a different outcome owing to the availability of sufficient oxygen.

What is Mild Physical Activity?

An activity categorised as 2 METS would translate into twice the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest (1 MET). METS are an accommodating and standard method for understanding the intensity of physical activities.

Some instances of mild physical activities include walking (i.e. shopping, walking around the office), sitting at your computer, making the bed, eating, preparing food, and washing dishes.

Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers the resting pulse, and reduces blood fat levels. It’s a fun, low-impact activity that can be easily included in your daily schedule.

The target heart rate during mild/low physical activity is between 45% and 54% of your HRmax. Regular exercise is an impressive regulator of insulin sensitivity.

Being physically active throughout the day in combination with structured endurance/resistance exercise provides greater benefits for health and well-being and overall systemic metabolism.

Many of the metabolic health benefits of exercise depend on skeletal muscle adaptations. Regular exercise can help to reduce weight, reduce blood pressure, and improve lipid disorders, including raising HDL and lowering triglycerides, leading to overall better metabolic health.

What is Metabolic Health?

The journal, Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders describes metabolic health as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.

Energy production, building new tissues, breaking down old tissue to repair it, elimination of waste, growth, and cellular reproduction is all a function of metabolism.

Metabolic health optimizes all of the bodily functions and makes the body run like a well-maintained car. Research shows that unstructured low-intensity activity leads to better metabolic health.

What Happens in the Body When you Workout High-Intensity Activity vs Mild Physical Activity?

To understand the difference between intense physical activity and mild physical activity, we need to delve deeper into the distinctions between anaerobic and aerobic activity.

WHO defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure.

Physical activity refers to all movement including during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work. Sedentary activity refers to not moving at all or working at a desk.

The other forms of physical activity include high-intensity activity, moderate-intensity activity, and mild/low-intensity physical activity.

Anaerobic activity (meaning without oxygen) refers to a higher intensity version of physical activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen.

The idea is that a lot of energy is released within a brief period of time. It involves forms of exercise like high-intensity interval training, weight lifting, shifting heavy loads, or digging ditches.

Aerobic activity (with oxygen) generates energy using an incessant supply of oxygen to sustain the activity level without an additional source of energy. To generate more energy, your body ropes in the anaerobic system, which depends on energy sources reserved in your muscles.

It includes moderate-intensity and slow-paced exercises like endurance cycling, yoga, water aerobics, jogging, and mild physical activities like cleaning, dancing, gardening, household chores, and walking.

What happens inside the body during High-intensity Exercise/Activity?

Fast-twitch muscle fibers contract quickly and more vigorously. They are recruited during high-intensity activities, like sprinting or lifting a really heavyweight.

They contract as quickly as they wear out. They largely use anaerobic metabolism for energy, which induces lactic acid production and soreness that leads the muscle to fatigue.

This is how it transpires.

  1. Intense exercise redirects blood from your liver and digestive system to your skeletal muscles.
  2. When your muscles function anaerobically, they voraciously consume the body’s stored fuel (called glycogen) without the accompaniment of oxygen. This leads to pain. Glycolysis takes place in muscle cells during high-intensity training without oxygen, producing energy quickly.
  3. The body receives signals from hormones to turn fat into glucose while minimizing the pain and enhancing your mood.
  4. Muscles produce lactic acid as a by-product of intensive exercise and the pH of the blood around the muscles drops. This drop-in pH eventually prevents the muscles from contracting further.
  5. At this point, you need to rest to allow the lactic acid to be metabolised.
  6. The brain consumes more energy during exercise to make neurotransmitters, while the heart beats faster due to the adrenaline elevation. When one works out regularly, the brain gets used to this recurring swell of blood and adapts by switching some genes on or off. Most of these changes enhance brain cell function.
  7. The muscles of the ribcage help the diaphragm consume more oxygen than at rest. Breathing assumes a faster and deeper tenor. Sweat glands produce sweat and waste heat is eliminated. Veins are squeezed by the muscles and they pump blood to the heart.
  8. Exercise also encourages the growth of new blood vessels, causing blood pressure to decrease in fit people. High-intensity exercise thus stimulates bone formation.

The body also utilises adenosine triphosphate or ATP, but the body only has small stores of both glucose and ATP. After quickly exhausting these supplies, the body requires extra oxygen to create more ATP.

As the body warms up, enzymes begin their job and aid your muscles’ access to glycogen aerobically (with oxygen). This process doesn’t create lactic acid. The anaerobic process is swifter, making it fitting for hard efforts.

metabolic health physical

What happens inside the Body during Mild Physical Activity?

Mild physical activity manoeuvres the aerobic energy system, which employs fats, carbohydrates, and sometimes proteins for re-synthesising ATP for energy use.

Aerobic glycolysis is not different from the anaerobic series of reactions (fast) glycolysis. The only departure is a different outcome owing to the availability of sufficient oxygen.

The aerobic system entails three stages of ATP production.

These stages entail more complex chemical reactions, slowing down the ATP. The more complex the process – the more time it takes to produce ATP.

The three stages are

1.Aerobic glycolysis (slow glycolysis)

Aerobic exercise involves the repeated and continuous movement of large muscle groups. These activities rely primarily on aerobic energy-producing systems.

Your aerobic energy system employs oxygen to produce energy. This energy is then hoarded and applied for longer phases of exercise/activity at a low intensity. The system converts glycogen into glucose.

2.Krebs Cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle)

Fatty acids (from fats) and amino acids (from proteins) are transformed into acetyl coenzyme A. The disintegration of glucose continues at this stage and results in the formation of the by-products carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O), and the synthesis of more ATP.

3.Electron Transport Chain

Hydrogen is transferred to the electron transport chain. Water is created as a by-product as hydrogen combines with oxygen.

Aerobic system can be likened to a big bus with a massive fuel tank as opposed to the V6 car of the anaerobic glycolytic system. The aerobic system generates far more ATP than any of the other energy systems but it produces the ATP gradually.

Hence it cannot fuel intense exercise that commands the swift production of ATP.

Aerobic training increases mitochondrial density, insulin sensitivity, oxidative enzymes, compliance and reactivity of blood vessels, lung function, immune function, and cardiac output.

How does Exercise Affect Metabolic Health?

According to a study published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology, “The results increase our knowledge of the widespread benefits of exercise on metabolism and reveal for the first time the true magnitude of these effects.

This reinforces the mandate for exercise as a critical part of programmes to prevent cardiovascular disease,” as quoted by Dr. John F. O’Sullivan of the University of Sydney, Australia, one of the senior authors of the study.

Two parts of the metabolic process are anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism centres around growth and building- the organisation of molecules. An example of anabolism is gluconeogenesis when the liver and kidneys produce glucose from noncarbohydrate sources.

When the body digests food and the molecules break down in the body into smaller components for use as energy, it’s referred to as catabolism.

An example of catabolism is glycolysis (a process in which glucose is partly broken down by cells in enzyme reactions that do not need oxygen).

Understanding anabolism and catabolism can help train more effectively to lose fat and gain muscle and improve overall metabolic health. Rest is also an essential part of the process.

There are different kinds of workouts that impact the body differently. Low-intensity exercise like a leisurely stroll or slow bike ride keeps your heart rate below 50% of your Maximum Heart Rate.

Moderate-intensity workouts increase the heart rate to 50%-70% of the MHR. Activities such as biking, swimming, running, and hiking fall under this category.

Moderate intensity exercise improves blood glucose control, reduces cardiovascular risk factors, contributes to weight loss, and improves well-being.

Moderate intensity regular exercise also has considerable health benefits for people (e.g., improved cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity, etc.)

Several biological mechanisms may be responsible for the reduction in the risk of chronic disease and premature death associated with routine mild physical activity.

For instance, routine mild physical activity has been shown to improve body composition (e.g., through improved weight control), enhance lipid lipoprotein profiles (e.g., through reduced triglyceride levels, increased high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol levels, and decreased low-density lipoprotein [LDL]-to-HDL ratios).

It even improves glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity, reduces blood pressure, reduces systemic inflammation, decreases blood coagulation, improves coronary blood flow and augments cardiac function.

Chronic inflammation, as indicated by elevated circulating levels of inflammatory mediators such as C-reactive protein, has been shown to be strongly associated with most chronic diseases whose prevention has benefited from routine mild physical exercise.

And then there’s of course, the high-intensity workouts- the ones that really help you break a sweat and maintain the heart rate above 70% MHR. These include sprints, resistance training and HIIT.

A study shows that aerobic exercise for at least 150 min per week is conducive to improving risk factors for metabolic syndrome-like body composition, insulin resistance, and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c).

Benefits of Mild Physical Activity on Metabolic Health

Low-intensity aerobic exercise like walking for about an hour or more enhances insulin action for at least 24 hours. This can also be split up into multiple, smaller bouts of exercise throughout the day. Some benefits include

  1. Regular training increases blood flow in the muscular system, oxidative capacity, lipid (fat) metabolism, and signaling proteins which enhance insulin action, leading to better metabolic health.
  2. Even in brief (3−15 min) bouts, mild physical activity is effective in acutely reducing postprandial (after a meal) hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) and improving glycemic control.
  3. Poor glycemic control can lead to complications with cardiovascular health.
  4. Mild aerobic training increases muscle insulin sensitivity in proportion to exercise volume.
  5. Research shows that aerobic exercise amplifies peak oxygen consumption (VO2 peak), which is closely associated with total body fat percentage (BF%); aerobic exercise is also an effective strategy for weight loss, particularly body fat loss.
  6. A Netherland study suggests that standing and walking for longer stretches enhances insulin sensitivity and blood lipid levels more than an hour of intense exercise each day does.
  7. The only caveat is that the calories spent in both forms of exercise should be similar.
  8. The findings translate into the idea that when energy expenditure is commensurate, longer durations of low-intensity exercise could possibly offer more benefits than shorter periods of intense activity.
  9. Another relevant study suggests that low-intensity exercise can be effective in improving physical and cognitive health for older adults since it is associated with better compliance, lower risk of injuries, and long-term sustainability.

Ways to Incorporate Mild Physical Activity into your Routine

There are several simple ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily life. Taking the stairs, walking or biking to a shop for groceries, adding movement to household chores, walking the dog, standing at your desk, and walking after meals are some fun starting points to get moving through the day.

Activity energy expenditure (AEE) is the component of one of the ways our bodies use energy. It includes exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Exercise and NEAT can comprise 20–50% of total energy expenditure.

NEAT is everything that we do that is not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. It is the energy expended in daily tasks like standing, walking, typing, cooking, gardening, and even fidgeting. Small movements can make a big difference.

Limiting screen time goes a long way in staying connected to the body since being at a screen requires us to be still and usually sit down. Getting a fitness tracker is also an encouraging tool that helps you move about and get your steps of the day.

Very few people know that maintaining posture while sitting is also a form of exercise. Sitting on an exercise ball or a good, high-backed chair can increase blood flow and improve core strength.

One needs muscular effort to maintain good posture. With a good posture, your core and upper back muscles tend to stay active and engaged.


Mild physical activity throughout the day helps with daily energy expenditure, and glycemic control and assists with weight management.

Research shows that unstructured low-intensity activity leads to better metabolic health. Small movements can make a big difference and amp up your NEAT score.

Mild physical activity is ideal as part of a daily routine for all individuals, especially for the ones who live a fairly sedentary life.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.


  1. Different types of exercises and why variety is important
  2. Catabolism vs. anabolism, what’s the difference?
  3. Benefits of exercise on Metabolism: more profound than previously reported
  4. Metabolic health: a priority for post-pandemic era,
  5. What is metabolic health?

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