aerobic training for longevity

Zone 2 and 5 Aerobic Training for Longevity, Fitness & Health

What is the optimal aerobic training for longevity, fitness, and health? While individualization is of the essence, many people are still confused about which cardio is best for fat loss, heart health, VO2max, etc. We’ll dive deep into the fundamentals of zone 2 and 5 training so you can learn to optimize your cardio to reach your goals.

There’s an interesting interplay between the effects of low-intensity vs. high-intensity cardio, and today we’ll bring forth the importance of both. From the fat-loss and metabolic health promoted by LISS to VO2max increases and aerobic performance boosted by HIIT, we cover it all. Buckle up!

Benefits of Aerobic Training

Aerobic training works the fundamentals of our energy-producing machinery. Mainly it works to increase our ability to take in, transport, and use oxygen efficiently to produce more energy. But it comes with numerous other benefits for the bones, muscles, brain, etc.

  1. Improves cardiovascular health by strengthening and increasing the efficiency of the heart, lowering blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease.
  2. Increases lung capacity, which improves oxygen intake and respiratory system efficiency.
  3. Improves immunity by increasing the production of antibodies and white blood cells, resulting in better immunity and a lower risk of infection.
  4. Effectively manages weight, burning calories and helping with weight loss or management
  5. Improves memory and overall mental health by increasing blood flow and neuroplasticity, which improves cognitive function and overall brain health.
  6. Reduces stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins, which improve mood and relieve stress.
  7. Increases energy, combats fatigue and boosts motivation.
  8. Increases overall restfulness and sleep quality by regulating sleep patterns.
  9. Lowers blood sugar levels effectively, assisting in regulation and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  10. Enhances overall fitness by increasing endurance, stamina, and physical fitness.
  11. Improves physical, mental, and emotional health to improve the overall quality of life.

The intensity at which we train dictates the benefits and adaptations of our bodies. Training at low intensity has more to do with metabolic health and the creation of energy at the level of mitochondria. High intensities work best to stimulate the heart and lungs, increasing their capacity, thus boosting aerobic performance.

zone 2 and 5 training

Zone 2 and Zone 5 Training

To optimize your cardio training, it’s crucial to comprehend the five training zones that are based on your heart rate maximum (HRmax) and VO2max percentages. These zones indicate the intensity level of your workout, with zone 1 being the lowest and zone 5 being the highest.

Zone 150-60% HRmaxrecovery, lymphatic flow, warm-up
Zone 260-75% HRmaxendurance, mitochondria; fat-loss
Zone 370-85% HRmaxaerobic fitness and power
Zone 480-95% HRmaxlactate threshold, speed stamina
Zone 590-100% HRmaxinsulin sensitivity,VO2max, heart heatlh

How to assess training zones or training intensity?

Since not everyone will wear a fitness tracker to assess intensity, for the sake of simplicity you can roughly split the zones based on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Zone 1 is quite easy, such as light walking while zone 2 has a tempo, you feel your heart going but you can hold a conversation. Zone 3 is what “training” feels like, such as mountain biking, while zone 4 is pretty hard to sustain, like fast swimming or kettlebell circuit. Zone 5 goes from almost max. to 100% all-out sprints. The one you want to end as soon as possible.

At low-intensity or steady-state exercise, we primarily use fats for fuel. Through the process of beta-oxidation, fats are burned in the mitochondria to produce energy, working the aerobic system. As exercise intensity increases, we start using faster fuels like glucose (or glycogen). Doing so results in creating quicker energy which lasts shorter, working the anaerobic system.

Fun Fact

Training at zone 2 and zone 5 is the perfect way to get the best of both worlds. The aerobic system works the mitochondria and burns fat, and the anaerobic system boosts lung and heart capacity.

At zone 5, we can do high-intensity short-interval training which can boost VO2max, improve insulin sensitivity, speed up our metabolism, and improve heart capacity. At zone 2 we work on the fundamentals of energy creation, improving mitochondria efficiency while burning fat.

cardio 101

Cardiovascular vs. Metabolic Adaptations

Working out is a physiological stressor. Aerobic or cardio work mainly targets the cardiovascular system and affects changes on a metabolic level. As you run, the body tries to adapt so you can run more next time. That means increased cardiac output, better circulation, more red blood cells, or higher efficiency in burning fat. Here’s the deal.

Cardiovascular Adaptations

When it comes to stroke volume and cardiac output, both HIIT and LISS work similarly. They both can improve the amount of blood pumped out of the heart, both per minute and per contraction.

Low-intensity cardio works better to increase capillarization and mitochondrial density, which boosts energy and improves oxygen transport. HIIT on the other hand boosts our lung capacity, increasing VO2max. It also increases the lactate threshold and buffering capacity of the muscle, helping to sustain high intensities.

Metabolic Adaptations

Running at a low intensity will rely on oxidative metabolism, burning fats to produce more ATP molecules. This is the aerobic, so-called oxygen-dependent system producing longer-lasting energy slowly. LISS works the mitochondria’s capacity to increase ATP output, by increasing its size, density, and activity.

Sprinting, on the other hand, the zone 5 training uses quicker fuels. We burn glycogen stored in the muscle, producing ATP quicker to support our high intensity. Oxygen isn’t a big factor, as this works the anaerobic system supported by enzymes like PFK and LDH. This increases the lactate threshold, allowing us to buffer lactate faster.

How long should I do cardio exercise for optimal health benefits?

For optimal health benefits, it’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. This can be broken down into 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. For additional health benefits, it’s recommended to have either 150 minutes of high-intensity or 300 minutes of low-to-moderate-intensity activity.

How can I incorporate cardio exercise into my daily routine?

It can start off with something very simple. Like bike to work. Park further away to take a lap in the park. Next time, ditch the elevator and take the stairs. As you progress, you’d look into hiking, swimming, or running. Dancing or playing VR games is also quite enjoyable one. Just pick what works for you, at the end of the day, it’s about stimulating the heart.

Are cardio workouts good for your heart?

Yes, it’s why they’re called cardio. It’s derived from the word kardia, which means heart in Greek. Cardio promotes heart and lung function, stimulates circulation, and strengthens the heart. It’s the ultimate tool for increasing one’s cardiorespiratory fitness.

low intensity cardio

The Best Combination for Health

Health, longevity, and fitness depend on numerous factors. Cardio targets heart function, allowing better transfer of oxygen and metabolic health, improving energy creation.

While each training zone corresponds to a specific adaptation, being focused on training zones is more suited for professional athletes. They make use of zone 1-3-4, more.

But when it comes to what everyday people could do to optimize their health and performance, the answer lies in zone 2 and zone 5. It’s the best of both worlds, preparing you for everyday mobility (walking), and quick stuff (sprinting up the stairs), while effectively improving heart health.

zone 2 and 5

Zone 2 Training

Zone 2 Intensity is aerobic training such as running, swimming, or cycling at a comfortable pace of around 60-75% of HRmax. Zone 2 training leads to fundamental metabolic adaptations that lead to greater health and vitality.

Aerobic Training for Longevity

  • Healthy Heart: Steady-state cardio is a great way to develop a healthy heart and support the circulatory system. LISS improves physical health, supports cognition, and improves cardiorespiratory fitness. (1) (2) It reduces coronary heart disease risk by 20-30%, improves metabolism, and reduces all-cause mortality. (3) (4) (5)
  • Fat-Loss: Steady state cardio helps burn fat for fuel, in the process of beta-oxidation. (6) This makes a sustainable weight loss method, as opposed to the hyped EPOC effect of HIIT which isn’t all that significant. LISS has higher adherence and is easier on the body.
  • Mitochondria: Aerobic training stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and enhances mitochondria function which improves energy creation. (7) (8) It is at a low intensity that pure mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation occurs – building the foundation of aerobic and metabolic health.

While increasing VO2max on paper will be faster with high-intensity interval training, LISS creates the metabolic base for the use of oxygen. Real endurance is built with both LISS and HIIT, as the first one helps transport and utilize that oxygen better.


Zone 2 training activities include swimming, cycling, or running done at 60-75% HRmax. It’s the fundamental aerobic conditioning for health, energy, and endurance. It works on a deeper level, burning fat, and improving mitochondria function and oxygen transport.

cardio rowing vo2max

Zone 5 Training

Zone 5 training is anaerobic training done at a high intensity of 95%+ VO2max and HRmax. It uses up glycogen in the muscles, so intense that it can’t be sustained for long periods. The most time-effective way to increase VO2max, burn calories, and improve aerobic performance.

Anaerobic Training for Performance

There are multiple ways to train at zone 5 intensity, but it’s mainly split into short, moderate, or longer intervals.

A training called REHIT, or reduced exertion high-intensity interval training done on a Carol bike uses short intervals. After the warm-up, there are 3-5 cycles of 20 sec. 100% all-out sprints on a cycle ergometer, with 1-3 min. recovery at low intensity.

Research on HIIT (REHIT) shows impressive benefits in reducing diabetes risk by 62%, lowering blood pressure, triglycerides, and increasing cholesterol by 5%, 10%, and 6%, respectively. (9) Insulin sensitivity increased by 28%, VO2max by 15% (males), and 12% (females). (10)

Longer intervals are done at 95% intensity, 3 min. on with 3 min. active rest, so a ratio of 1:1. Studies show a 3% increase in VO2max and a 6% boost in running economy. (11)

HIIT training is more time-effective in many ways. It burns more calories per minute, additionally has an EPOC (afterburn) effect, and is superior in improving insulin sensitivity. It’s the ultimate performance drug for heart and lung capacity.


Training in zone 5 offers numerous benefits that improve aerobic and anaerobic performance. High-intensity training is superior in boosting VO2max, insulin resistance, and heart function.

Zone 2 and Zone 5 – It’s Where Life Happens

Although every training intensity has its purpose, in terms of getting the maximal return on investment zone 2 and zone 5 training are the fundamentals.

Zone 2 is your regular biking to work, taking the stairs, or walking with a tempo. It supports the day-to-day stuff, preparing your systems for sustained mobility.

HIIT or zone 5 on the other hand is when you have to sprint to get your kids, or cut some trees and play tennis with your kids. It’s of great importance for your heart health and lung capacity, strongly associated with vitality and longevity.

  • Training in zone 2 is aerobic and works on the fundamentals of endurance. It burns fat for fuel, improves mitochondria function, increases capillarization – thus boosting energy.
  • Training in zone 5 works on aerobic power. It increases VO2max, one of the strongest factors for longevity. It improves cholesterol profile and insulin sensitivity, plus it trains your heart.

Weekly Schedule: How to Combine Zone 2 and 5 Training?

This is where individualization comes in. But, if your question is, how much should I train for optimal health, we’ll let’s look at some rough estimates.

The WHO guidelines for physical activity for adults aim at 150-300 min. weekly exercise at low to moderate intensity or 75-150 min. at moderate to vigorous intensity.

LISS and HIIT are targeting the cardiovascular system, so the efficiency to transport oxygen and create energy. For boosting and supporting heart health and lung capacity, as it relates to aerobic conditioning “the optimals” will vary for each person. Some rough estimates:

Moderate – improving or maintaining health

  • 1-2 LISS sessions – 60-90 minutes at low intensity, steady state cardio at 60-75 % HRmax;
  • activities such as swimming, running, walking, cycling
  • 1-2 HIIT sessions – either short intervals (4 cycles of 10-20 sec. 100% intensity with 3 min. breaks at low intensity) or long intervals (4 cycles of 3 min active at 90% with 3 min active rest at 40%);
  • activities such as cycle ergometer, track sprints, rowing, ski erg

In the context of the average population, if combined with 2-4 strength training sessions, the moderate exercise protocol weekly is close to optimal.

In terms of competing, or training for improving endurance performance, that’s another topic. Endurance athletes train upward of 5 times weekly, which can be utterly taxing and unnecessary for the average human looking to boost / support their heart health, lung capacity, and stamina.


  • Zone 2 training is aerobic training at 60-75% HRmax, light tempo. It’s the LISS cardio done in activities like cycling, running, swimming, or hiking
  • Zone 5 training is anaerobic training at 95%+ VO2max, hard exercise. HIIT training involves activities like track sprints, maximal cycling, or intense rowing.
  • Zone 2 training targets weight loss by burning fat for fuel. It’s the fundamental of endurance which improves mitochondria function, energy creation, and metabolic health.
  • Zone 5 training improves aerobic power and heart capacity. It’s the most effective way to increase one’s VO2max values. Z5 is superior for insulin sensitivity, cholesterol profile, and calorie burning (per time).
  • Combining Z2 and Z5 training works on both systems essential for aerobic performance, health, and longevity. It prepares the metabolism for long-term demands and increases short-term aerobic power.

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