How much cardio exercise should I do?

You should do cardiovascular exercise most days of the week. Walking is the cheapest and easiest way to get started. If you’re just starting out, try just 5 to 10 minutes of exercise three times per week and build up to 30 minutes five times per week. A good goal to aim for is 150 minutes of moderate exercise (walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (jogging) each week. Of course there are many other fun and beneficial ways to get in that cardio. Choose something you enjoy and try to get friends or family to join you!

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Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
If you are looking to lose weight, I suggest this: 30-60 minutes per day, 5 days a week

If you just want to stay healthy and fit, this amount of cardio exercise would work: 15-30 minutes per day, 4-5 days a week.

Overall, I really just want you to get moving. With that said, when you perform your cardio, try to vary how hard you are working. There are different levels of intensity. If you want to boost your weight loss, make your activity vigorous a few times a week. Your breathing is hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up significantly, you’ll know that you’re working at the right level if you can’t say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath. On lighter days, simply perform what we experts call moderate-intensity cardio. That means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, but not so hard that you couldn’t have a conversation with someone while doing it.
First of all, be sure to consult with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program. Everyone is different and consistency is key to making a difference in your body. The best methods to successful weight loss include circuit training and interval training. Circuit and Interval training are incredible calorie burners as they force the body to alternate between high and low intensity exercise that trains your heart to recover quicker which leads to powerful results. High intensity exercise has great benefits because it burns more calories per minute when compared to lower intensity exercise, allowing you to maximize the effectiveness of your workout while minimizing the time spent exercising.

Your body doesn't respond to how long you exercise or how many reps you do, it responds to intensity. If you are a beginner, simply get started by performing steady cardio exercises like walking, jogging or biking for up to 30 minutes most days of the week. Once you can successfully accomplish 30 minutes of low intensity exercise for 5 days per week, change things up to keep your body guessing so those calories won't stand a chance against your new and improved fat burning machine!
Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
I believe you should do something everyday. I try to do aerobic exercise for 50 minutes. It can be anything and preferably something you enjoy. If I am in the mood to read I will do the recumbent bike. If I want to listen to music I will do a spinning class. I can give tons of examples but the bottom line is you need to make it enjoyable so you will stick to it. How much varies but at least 30 minutes is a minimum goal.
How much cardio exercise you do depends on your current fitness level, exercise history, current health status, and goals. For general health benefits you should perform 30 minutes of cardio activity, 5-7 days of the week. Any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate can be considered cardio exercise. If you find that 30 minutes is a little too challenging, start with 5-10 minutes and gradually work up to 30 minutes. You could even choose to do three 10 minute exercise sessions throughout the day. Research has shown that performing three bouts of 10 minutes is just as effective as performing one 30 minute session. If your goal is improved fitness, 20-60 minutes of cardio exercise at a moderate-to-high intensity (between 60-90% maximum heart rate*) 3-5 day of the week is recommended.


*Maximum heart rate = 220 - age


How much cardio exercise you do really depends on what you are looking to accomplish from your exercise program. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, you should strive to get in  a total of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.  If you're pressed for time and/or an advanced exerciser do 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every week.

Moderate-intensity activity means you're working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, but not so hard that you couldn’t have a conversation with someone while doing it.

Vigorous-intensity activity means your breathing is hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up significantly – you’ll know that you’re working at the right level if you can’t say more than a few words without pausing to take a breath.


Here's how you can make these guidelines work for you:

If you're doing a moderate-intensity cardio activity/program try to get in 30-60 minutes per day X 5 days/week.

If you're doing a more vigorous-intensity cardio activity/program try to get in 15-30 minutes/day X 4-5 days/week.

Well, if you are not currently doing any, doing even 5 minutes a day is a good thing! Eventually, you want to work up to 20 minutes at a time. That will start to improve your baseline health. After that, you can begin to work on a goal of 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day.

How much cardio exercise you do should be based on what your health and fitness goals are. Are you trying to lose weight? Are you preparing for a 5k run? Is it a health and fitness lifestyle change?

If you are trying to make a healthy lifestyle change then consider 30 minutes of moderate cardio (walking, hiking, biking) 5-7 days per week. If you are prepping for an athletic event or athletic goal then you will need to train at 60%-90% of your maximum heart rate. Simply take the number 220, subtract your age, and multiply that number by .60 and .90 to get a basic calculation of your training heart rate zones.  If you are trying to lose weight, then the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends, cardio 3-5 days per week, 20-60 minutes at a time, at 60%-90% of your maximum heart rate. Though, given our busy lives, it may be more realistic to go with 5-7 days with 30 minutes of cardio at a given time.

Remember to consult your doctor before starting any program to ensure your body can handle the stress of cardio workouts. To eliminate the guesswork when putting together a cardio program, please consider the F.I.T.T.E. principle, developed by NASM.  
  • Frequency: Depending on goals and capabilities, 3-5 days or 5-7 days per week
  • Intensity: Moderate for general fitness or 60%-90% to promote fat loss or athletic gains
  • Time: Minimum 30 minutes 5-7 days per week, 20-60 if time allows you
  • Type: Engage in activities that are safe, effective and are related to your goals
  • Enjoyment: You have to like what you do for it to be effective. So find an activity or a group of people with similar goals and GET MOVING!
It is recommended for general health to exercise 5-7 times per week at a moderate intensity, enough to increase your heart rate and breathing, for a minimum of 30 minutes per session. To increase your cardiovascular fitness levels, exercise 3-5 times per week at 60 -- 90% of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age). Each session should last 20 -- 60 minutes.
Wendy Batts
If you are new to increasing your activity, start with 2-4 days per week at 20-30 minutes per bout of cardio. If you are de-conditioned or new to exercise, work out at a “5 out of 10” on an intensity scale with 1 being very easy and 10 being full maximum effort.

Another way to monitor how hard you are working is your ability to speak. You should be able to deliver full sentences without difficulty at this stage of training. After about 2-4 weeks begin adding an additional day and/or begin increasing intensity to where you are still able to speak but only able to deliver short sentences comfortably. As always, be sure to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Everyone needs at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days of the week. If you have no physical or medical restrictions, do more for even greater health rewards. Some people must get more than this minimum standard if they are trying to lose weight or are trying to maintain their weight after losing a large amount of weight.

Although cardiovascular exercise remains very important during later years, you should gradually increase either the duration or frequency while decreasing the intensity of your cardio workout. This will reduce your risk of injury while helping you maintain the benefits of cardio exercise. Follow your healthcare provider's advice if you have a medical condition or are exercising for the first time.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
In addition to 30 minutes of daily walking, aim for a minimum of 60 minutes a week of cardiovascular or sweating activity—ideally in three 20-minute sessions—in which you raise your heart rate to 80 percent or more of its age-adjusted maximum (220 minus your age) for an extended period of time. I recommend low-impact activities like swimming, cycling, or using an elliptical trainer to get your heart rate up without compromising the quality of your joints in the process (and to change activities, so you don't get repetitive use injuries from doing the same activity over and over).
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.