If you’re anything like me, cardio is the easiest part of a workout routine to skip… but it’s a necessary evil that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re having trouble staying consistent, I’m here to encourage you to keep at it! Once you understand the amount of cardio exercise that you need to produce the best results, it may be easier to stay focused on your objectives.
There are just too many health benefits to compromise on your cardio workout. Besides the obvious, losing weight, cardio training kicks up and keeps your metabolism in high gear, increases blood flow to vital organs, supports the digestive system, suppresses appetite, builds endurance for longer workouts, helps your body run more efficiently and promotes longevity. Another benefit that many people ignore, is that cardio exercise allows for thoughtful reflection and improves thinking skills.
Cardio Training Guidelines
No matter what your purpose for doing cardio – to improve or maintain your overall health or to reshape your body – consistency, not high impact endurance, is the key. Although beneficial to some, doing more intense, harder cardio exercises for longer periods of time isn’t necessarily the best way to a fit or healthier body. The truth is that cardio exercise should enhance, not impair your strength, endurance or recovery.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has helped to debunk one myth about cardio that has been stumbling block for many of us, and that is that the cardio requirements to reach a specific goal need to be completed in one session. Gone are the days when you had to carve out an hour or two several times per week; now you can accomplish the same objectives in shorter daily sessions that you can easily do at home.
So how much cardio exercise do you need? As a general guideline, the ACSM recommends that adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This recommendation can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
In addition to the ACMS standard outlined above, there are several other factors you should consider when determining the amount of cardio training you should perform on a daily (or weekly) basis.
Know Your Fitness Goals
The fitness goals you set are personal. No two people will need the same combination of diet and exercise or the same amount of time and intensity to get the results they desire. The amount of cardio exercise you need will depend largely on your body type, goals and the types of exercise you enjoy. The intensity level is a variable that only you can choose.
If your goal is to lose weight, a consistent commitment to cardio will help you burn excess calories and should be an essential part of your daily routine. For an athlete, longer sessions will build endurance and lung capacity. Body builders may choose to do light, low intensity cardio as a way to warm up before heavy lifting and improve blood flow.
Know Your Body Type
There are three main body types: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. You may fall into one category or somewhere in-between. Knowing your body type will give you a better idea of how your body uses and stores fuel, and ultimately the type and amount of cardio training you need.
- Ectomorphs are naturally slim with small bone structure. They are the envy of many because they seem to be able to eat anything they want without gaining weight. Cardio for weight loss is not typically necessary because they tend to lose weight easily. If you’re an ectomorph, going light on the cardio is a good idea (2-3 times a week), but don’t skip it entirely or you’ll miss the other benefits it provides.
- Mesomorphs are generally more athletic with a more muscular physique. They have the easiest time building muscle and keeping it on while losing weight, giving them a calorie burning advantage. If you’re a mesopmorph, cardio sessions a few times per week to maintain the vascular benefits may be enough to see results.
- Endomorphs are commonly heavier set, easily gain weight and have a difficult time taking it off. While having more muscle than the typical ectomorph, endos need to increase the amount of cardio to offset their tendency to hold onto fat. If you’re an endomorph, you should do cardio at least three times per week; however, shoot for a more consistent pattern of five to six sessions per week for weight loss.
Types of Cardio Exercise
The variety of activities that can be considered “cardio” are endless. Although it can easily be accomplished on a treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike, cardio training can also be completed at home or outside. Your weekly commitment can be fulfilled by running, cycling, dancing, swimming, playing a variety of sports, hiking, etc. Any activity that has you moving at a consistent pace for 10 minutes or more is considered cardio.
The intensity level and frequency of cardio training is what will determine how effective it is towards reaching your personal fitness goals. These are the three main types of cardio exercise to consider:
- Low Intensity cardio is easy on the body, beneficial to the lungs and heart, helps burn fat and can be done by nearly anyone and anywhere there is flat, level ground. If you find treadmills and stationary bikes boring, take a walk through your neighborhood or go on a leisurely bike ride through the park. A half hour daily commitment can be done at once or broken down into several 10 minute sessions.
- Moderately intense cardio is generally done less often, as it expends more energy and may require more planning and time. Exercises that fall into this category include jogging, swimming and racquetball. For weight loss, consider moderate levels of cardio four to six times per week. Sessions may need to be spaced out for recovery. If you’re trying to build muscle, reduce sessions to two per week.
- High intensity cardio is the most challenging and the hardest on the body. The goal is to push yourself to the point of exhaustion for short periods of time; exercises include HIIT, sprinting and running on an incline. High intensity cardio is extremely effective for weight loss and helps to raise the fat-burning rate and metabolism of the body. For weight loss, plan for a maximum of three sessions per week with recovery days in between. Body builders should limit it to one or two days. This level of training requires a high degree of fitness and beginners should slowly work their way up from low to high intensity.
The Right Cardio Routine For You
If you’re new to exercise and the cardio requirements seem daunting, don’t let that stop you from starting. No matter where you begin, there will always be a benefit to becoming physically active. Even a 10 minute walk every day is more than an hour of cardio per week! As you progress, your body will adapt and it will become easier to push things further, if you choose.
Keep in mind, especially if you’re primarily interested in lifting weights to add curves and firm up your body, that too much cardio may negatively impact your end goal. Cardio training provides many benefits and can help you burn fat, but too much cardio will deplete your body of vital nutrients necessary to build muscle. Finding a happy medium that takes into account your body type and fitness goals will be the key to choosing a cardio routine. Start out slowly and fine-tune your workouts to find the perfect mix.
Remember to check with your physician before starting any new exercise program. Be selective and choose activities that you will most likely commit to. Don’t start a program because a friend, family member or co-worker makes a suggestion. No specific type or amount of cardio exercise is right for everyone; consider your goals, fitness level and personal tastes.