Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that cardiovascular exercise (or cardio for short) is a killer way to burn body fat. From incline walking and jogging to hill sprints and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), there's no shortage of cardio workouts out there. But amongst the wide range of cardio exercises and workouts available, one golden question remains: How often do you need to do cardio to lose weight? To find out, we consulted certified personal trainers and fitness experts who help answer this exact question.
Cardio offers plenty of other health benefits beyond weight loss. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, regular exercise, including cardio, can help lower blood pressure, increase HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, and improve blood sugar control. Furthermore, research suggests that engaging in regular cardio exercise can slash your risk of heart disease—the number one cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Regardless of your fitness level or where you're at on your weight loss journey, understanding how often you need to do cardio is essential for reaching your weight loss goals. Read on to learn more and get some expert tips on incorporating cardio into your fitness routine. Then, find out Why You're Not Losing Weight Doing Cardio.
How often should you do cardio to lose weight?
The excellent news is striking a healthy balance between cardio and rest doesn't mean overwhelming yourself with daily high-intensity workouts. Instead, consistency is the name of the game when it comes to sustainable weight loss. For excellent cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio per week. However, you can ramp this amount up to 300 minutes if weight loss is your goal.
Tracie Haines-Landram, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and nutrition coach with Barbend, says, "What's important about the AHA's cardio guidelines is that it is an accumulation of time over the week. This helps to dismantle the 'all or nothing' mindset of thinking cardio must be a certain length to count. A 15-minute walk chips away the total, and multiple shorter bouts of exercise (at least 10 minutes in length) accumulate. This also allows for flexibility to have longer cardio sessions on the weekend, like an outdoor hike or 60-minute bike ride."
Which types of cardio are best for weight loss?
The beauty of cardio is the wide variety of exercise options available for people of all fitness levels. Additionally, all forms of cardio can be effective for weight loss. "The type of cardio, whether running, walking, jogging, or using an elliptical, stairclimber, or rower doesn't matter," says Gianna Masi, CPT, RDN, a certified personal trainer and registered dietitian with Barbend. "One modality isn't better than the other for weight loss. The energy output via exercise can help someone reach an energy or caloric deficit, which is how someone loses weight."
Personal factors can impact cardio for weight loss.
Your fitness level, health status, and preferences are crucial in helping you lose weight. For example, beginners may start with gentler forms of cardio, like hopping on an elliptical or swimming, and gradually progress to more strenuous workouts, such as long-distance running or HIIT.
"Optimal frequency of cardio workouts for weight loss varies based on individual factors such as fitness level, goals, and overall health," Haines-Landram explains. "Not all cardio is created equally in terms of its impact on your body's physical structures. The ideal workout is the one someone will do consistently. Too often, individuals get caught up in what the perfect workout should look like and skip opportunities for shorter, more frequent workouts."
Tips for including cardio in a comprehensive weight loss plan:
Combine cardio with strength training a few days a week to optimize your weight loss efforts. Additionally, set realistic goals and remember that consistency trumps intensity. And most importantly, make your exercise routine enjoyable by choosing activities you love. It's the only way to prevent burnout and cultivate a long-term commitment to your health and fitness goals.
"Cardio and strength training should be a part of everyone's week. We now know how important these elements are in the stature and body composition we want and the functionality and type of life we want to live. Both require strength (resistance training) and aerobic activities (cardio)," states Masi.