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Best Exercise Intensity Levels for Women 40+

Why Women Over 40 Will Want to Limit Time in Zone 3 (popular zone at Orange Theory and many group fitness classes)


It’s helpful to divide levels of exercise intensity into five heart rate zones. 


Zone 1: daily activities of living, nose breathing, talking in complete sentences

Zone 2 is an endurance zone and a recovery zone (as well as 1). It involves mainly nose breathing and complete sentences. 

Zone 3: higher than comfortable, steady state, lower than interval, primarily mouth breathing, choppy between-breath talking

Zone 4: Interval level, breathlessness, barely talking. 

Zone 5: Added intensity, sprint to finish, not sustainable, no talking


Various zones affect the body in different ways.


Zone 1 = 85% of the calories burned are from fat; unfortunately, we aren’t burning many.

Zone 2 = We burn more calories than in Zone 1, and 65% of our calories come from fat stores. 

Zone 3 = We are burning more calories, but less of them are from fat stores and more from the carbs we ate recently. Our body is also producing more cortisol to keep up with energy demands.  This zone is often called the Grey Zone and is considered the least beneficial, especially to women over 40.

Zone 4 = There is little fat burning here, and we produce large amounts of cortisol. However, spending 2 minutes or less at a time in this zone trains your body to burn more fat for energy when you’re not exercising. It also helps increase lean muscle mass and improve power and cardiovascular fitness.

Zone 5 = maximal exercise. This is high-intensity interval training. In this zone, we burn all carbohydrates and zero stored fat calories. However, working in this zone in very short spurts (30 seconds) gives the same benefits as Zone 4 but faster.


Choose exercise and movement that keeps you primarily in Zone 2. Consider adding short bursts of Zone 4 or very short bursts of Zone 5.  

Spends time in Zones 1 and 2 and has the added benefit of adding muscle mass. Read this blog for more on why muscle mass is important.


Mostly occupies Zone 2 with some Zone 1, and we try to reach Zone 4 briefly during the cardio portion.


Improves balance, mobility, and lowers cortisol levels.

Walking is a great Zone 2 activity. 


Stay active throughout the day! Every bit of movement counts!


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