How Much Cardio? Guidelines for Health and Weight Loss

You deserve a cardio plan as unique as you!

By: Emily Freeman

Whether you’re trying to be healthier or lose weight, cardio is a key factor in reaching your fitness goals. But when you’re trying to figure out your weekly cardio quota, there’s no one size fits all answer to how much cardio is enough and how much is too much.  

How Much Cardio is Too Much? Guidelines for Health and Weight Loss

When it comes to exercise, you can get too much of a good thing. Too much prolonged high-intensity exercise can lead to injuries, exhaustion, hormonal imbalances, and research suggests that too much prolonged high-intensity exercise can lead to cardiovascular health risks.  Unfortunately, there is no magic threshold for maximum cardio across the board.

There are certain signs you can look for that can be indications of too much exercise, like increased resting heart rate, unusual loss of appetite, restless legs, troubled sleep patterns (not being able to fall or stay asleep), increased stress and irritable or down moods, amenorrhea in women

How Much Cardio is Right For You? 

That’s a tricky question. And the answer depends. 

We each have unique goals, lifestyles, body types, and levels of tolerance for cardio. However, by taking a look at the minimum requirements to keep your body healthy and strategic ways to balance the different forms of cardio — low, moderate, and high-intensity — you can establish a baseline approach to get you started on the right cardio regimen for you. 

Cardio Workout Guidelines

When creating a cardio routine for your goals, it’s important to understand the three foundational types of cardio:

High-Intensity Workouts 

High-intensity workouts are considered anaerobic cardio. They require large amounts of ATP stores to create big bouts of energy. Since your body can only maintain this “all-out” effort for a matter of seconds, these workouts usually alternate between a push, where your heart rate is between 70 to 85 percent of your heart-rate max (or where you’re breathing heavy and can not speak comfortably), and an active rest, usually called HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). You can turn almost any of your favorite types of cardio into HIIT when you apply the correct training method like sprinting, rowing, hiking, spinning, plyometric exercises, and stair climbing. We also love kickboxing and Tabata workouts!

HIIT workouts are your go-to cardio workout when you’re crunched on time and want to maintain and even build muscle mass while reducing body fat, support both cardiovascular health and endurance, boost your overall mood, support better focus and productivity, improve speed and agility, and burn additional calories for up to 24 hours after your workout! 

However, you can get too much of a good thing when it comes to high-intensity cardio workouts. Performing HIIT workouts more than three or four times per week can put you at risk for overuse injuries and burnout. It’s also important to consult your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to get your heart rate up that high, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions.

Moderate-Intensity Workouts

Your heart rate should be between 50 to 70 percent of your max (about the effort where you’re breathing heavy but can still hold a conversation while exercising) during a moderate-intensity cardio workout. Think running, swimming, uptempo dancing, bicycling, and circuit training with lighter weights. Like high-intensity workouts, your body will still use ATP, but it will be at a steady level, so your body can also start creating glucose from stored glycogen to continue exercising at the same intensity.

This is why moderate-intensity workouts can last longer and help you condition for high-intensity days by creating baseline endurance, burn fat and lose weight, regulate hunger cues, feel more uplifted, get a better night’s sleep, keep you coming back for more since it isn’t overly taxing. 

Moderate-intensity cardio workouts will get your blood moving and increase your endurance, but they may not give you the muscle tone or strength you’re craving. Also, your body loves to take the path of least resistance. So, if you’re doing the same moderate cardio routine week after week, eventually, it will stop being as effective. That’s right — your body will actually start burning fewer calories as it gets accustomed to the workouts. Rude, right?

Low-Intensity Workouts 

Low-intensity cardio workouts get your body moving but don’t really require much energy exertion. Activities that keep you in this range are easy walking, light jogging, slow swimming, elliptical, and bicycling at a slower pace on flat ground. 

Your go-to cardio may include low-intensity workouts when you want to recover from more intense workouts, burn fat, increase mobility and decrease joint pain, build light endurance, give yourself an energy boost. 

Low-intensity cardio is a great way to get in some physical activity. However, if you’re trying to improve your cardiovascular system, lose weight, or build muscle, they can only go so far. Since they are such a light form of exercise, your body will adapt to them quickly, and your progress will slow down. 

How Much Cardio Should I Do (For Health Only)?

We know there are a few of you out there who are wondering, “Okay, but what is the bare minimum cardio I need to do to be healthy?” It’s just not your thing, and that’s okay. But it is still important for you to meet cardio guidelines to support cardiovascular health, boost endorphins and keep that pep in your step, improve sleep quality, prevent or manage diabetes, and keep body fat at a healthy range.

The CDC recommends getting 150-minutes per week of low to moderate intensity cardio or 75-minutes of intense cardio per week. To break it down, aim to accomplish:

30-minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio five days a week 

60-minutes of low to moderate intensity cardio two days per week and 30-minutes one day

15-minutes of intense cardio five days per week

30-minutes of intense cardio two days per week and 15-minutes one day

When it comes to light to moderate cardio workouts, you can do these every day. This type of cardio training is also great for active rest days to help your body restore and recover before your next workout. 

How Much Cardio Should I Do To Lose Weight?

Your dedication to cardio needs to shift a bit when it comes to your weight loss plan. To burn fat and lose inches with cardio workouts, it’s important to take your unique lifestyle, body, time, exercise habits, pre-existing conditions, and overall happiness into consideration. Sure, you could hop on a treadmill for an hour every day and see weight loss. But most people don’t find much joy in squeezing hourlong, dull cardio workouts into their already demanding lives. 

Cue happy dance (yes, you can count it towards your cardio). You do not need to chain yourself to a piece of cardio equipment to lose fat and feel great in your body. What you do need — a balanced combination of high-intensity and low to moderate-intensity cardio workouts and a smile on your face while doing (most) of them. If you don’t enjoy your workouts, you probably won’t keep doing them, and any progress can quickly reverse itself or never come to be. 

Don’t minimize the importance of scheduling at least two active rest days per week. This will reduce your risk of injury, prevent burnout, and allow you to get out and have some fun. We love hiking, beach walks, strolls around the neighborhood, and leisurely bike rides on our days off to stay active and give our bodies the TLC they need! 

RELATED: What is Overtraining Syndrome & Why It May Stall Results 

Solving The Cardio Equation

As you progress in your fitness journey, you’ll begin to realize that every week can look different. Between busy schedules, changing goals, daily activity levels, and your body adapting to the routines you’re doing, the amount of cardio and intensity you need in one week can be different from the next. Meeting your weekly cardio quota is important in reaching your goals, but no matter what, it’s always important to listen to your body first.

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