Determining how often you should do cardio can be a little tricky. For starters, it’s not simply a matter of maintaining a trim physique.
“Cardio workouts are about more than just losing weight,” says Alasdair Fitz-Desorgher, group fitness instructor and CrossFit Level 3 coach. “They help you maintain a healthy heart and respiratory system, which affect all aspects of your health and fitness.”
For guidance on how often you should do cardio, Fitz-Desorgher points to the American Heart Association’s recommendations of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
How you distribute that work is up to you, though a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found that doing cardio four to five times a week had significant health benefits.
Can You Do Too Much Cardio?
“You can overdo any exercise,” says Fitz-Desorgher.
Each person’s fitness level and threshold between regular exercise and overtraining are different, so it’s important to listen to your body, prioritize nutrition and hydration, and honor your rest days.
If you experience mood swings, disruptions to your sleep patterns, an elevated resting heart rate, or it seems like you’re constantly getting sick, you may be overdoing it.
Beyond taxing your immune system, doing more cardio than you should can also lead to injuries and even muscle atrophy.
“As you get fatigued, your ability to maintain good form starts to diminish. If you keep going with poor form, you’re more likely to incur an injury,” says Fitz-Desorgher. “And if you really go overboard with your training, you can suffer atrophy (when your muscles start to waste away), as your body starts using protein from your muscles for fuel instead of fats and carbs.”
How Much Cardio Should You Do to Lose Weight?
If you’re trying to drop a few pounds, Fitz-Desorgher’s advice for how much cardio you should do doesn’t change too much. However, he does have some pointers regarding workout choice, exercise intensity, and nutrition.
“For losing weight, it’s all about calories in versus calories out. If you burn 200 calories on your 30-minute walk, but then reward yourself with a candy bar or bottle of soda, then you may have built a healthier heart, but your waistline will still get larger,” he says.
If you’re short on time, opt for workouts that challenge you.
“We all know it’s harder to lift a heavy weight or run up a hill than walk along the beach, and that’s because it requires more energy! So for burning calories quickly, you should favor exercises that feel harder. HIIT workouts or lifting weights is a great way to burn calories/fat fast,” he explains. “Also, working harder will boost your metabolism, helping to burn calories for longer after the workout.”
And the number one trick for doing as much cardio as you should? Find an activity that you like (or, at the very least, don’t hate).
“The best kind of exercise is the one you enjoy because that’s the one you’ll keep doing, more often, and for longer,” Fitz-Desorgher says. “Maybe that’s burpees, maybe it’s riding your bike, or maybe it’s just walking your dog. If you’re moving, you’re burning calories.”