How much cardio should I do to lose weight?

Samantha Reid
Health Education
The amount of cardio that you should be doing is going to differ between person and fitness level. The American College of Sports Medicine guidelines tell us to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (that is about 30 minutes five times per week). However, creating a goal for exercise needs to be unique to YOU. If you are fairly sedentary, start with two to three times per week for 20 minutes and work up to the overall goal. Keep in mind, another aspect of weight management that is essential for weight loss, is strength training. This can be added at any time; please consult a wellness professional to help you incorporate strength training into your routine. ALWAYS consult a doctor before starting ANY new exercise routine.
There is no on standard answer to this question as we are all different, so it will depend on how your body reacts to cardio exercise. For example, I may have to perform cardio exercise for at least 1 hour to see results where as my sister only needs 30 minutes. Other factors that play an important role is the amount of calories that are taken in and how active your day is. The more you eat may mean, reducing calories, more time spent exercising or an increase in intensity. One way to find the right amount of cardiovascular training that is right for you is to increase activity and record your caloric intake, and exercise expenditure. After 3-4 weeks see if there were any improvements. The best way to figure this out is to find a fitness training coach who can assist in the process and provide an objective perspective.
30 minutes is enough for adults. If you're not losing weight you need to check your eating habits. The rule of thumb is "calories in, calories out". Most of us eat way more then is nessecary.
If you are trying to lose weight, then the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends, 3-5 days of cardio 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.

However, it is important to note that weight loss occurs when there is a caloric deficit between what you eat and what you burn over a given day. So please make the cardio time you dedicate worthwhile and eat appropriately to lose weight. If you have any questions about cardio and nutrition for weight loss please feel free to contact me.

Also, 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!
To lose weight you must be in a caloric deficit. Half the battle is just watching what you eat. Cardio is just one way to help you burn more calories throughout the day. To burn the most calories possible you must consider resistance training as well. A combination of cardio and resistance training can help increase excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means you will be burning calories not only when you are working out but the remaining 23 hours of the day. Just remember to start slow and create a program that you enjoy.
Start by attempting to do at least 10 minutes of cardio every day. You could walk around the neighborhood at a moderate pace, climb the stairs in your home, or jump on the stationary bike at your local gym. Gradually increase your duration from 10 minutes per day to 15 minutes, then to 20 minutes, and so on. Once you have reached 35 minutes per day, change up your activities. Jog instead of walking, swim laps instead of climbing stairs, or try the elliptical machine instead of the stationary bike. Make it really interesting by doing multiple activities for 35 minutes -- walk for 5 minutes, jog for 5 minutes, run for 5 minutes, and repeat for a total of 35 minutes. You can even make it a social activity by inviting your family members to join you, or by joining a local organized sport league. As you build your stamina and increase your level of endurance, you can increase the duration and intensity of your cardio activities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as a brisk walk) or a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous activity (such as jogging) to maintain health. The key words here are "to maintain health", in order to see weight loss results, more may have to be completed. The SECRET to weight loss is not the amount of cardio one performs, or the number of hours one spends in a gym, it is merely the balance between the number of calories one consumes versus the number of calories one burns. 

I often find that people do not want to think it is this easy, but it is. The challenge with weight loss often comes with making the correct decisions as far as what type of food to eat and when to eat it. To find out what foods may best serve your needs contact a local nutritionist or work with an HFPN Coach on proper nutrition tracking methods and setting up a DotFIT account.
Dominique Adair
First, if you are doing no exercise the best amount is "more than that." For people starting out a cardio exercise program for weight loss, one of our biggest concerns is too much too fast. If you are too sore, or don't have enough time or energy to sustain an overly ambitious program, it will backfire. Once you have progressively increased your workout, and you are enjoying it, most weight loss research indicates that 250 minutes is optimum for weight loss. Exercise is also exceptionally effective to help people maintain lost weight.
Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
The bottom line to lose weight weight is you need to burn more calories than you take in. I always tell patients you can out eat exercise any day of the week. The bottom line is to lose weight you need a healthy diet and regular aerobic exercise.
Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
To effectively lose weight and keep it off, you need to eat fewer calories (500 calories less/day) and move more (walk 10,000 steps/day and get active 30 minutes/day). Try to drink 16 oz. of cold water before meals (research shows that you will consume almost 100 calories less/meal). Eat breakfast (early am eaters keep their weight off). Get 8 hours of sleep/night (proper rest allows your appetite hormones to stay in balance). Control your stress (stress releases cortisol and can also stimulate emotional eating). Get moving (at least 30 minutes/day, breathe hard and sweat. Find something that you enjoy doing so that you will continue doing it). Losing weight is a lifestyle modification and mindset change. Good luck!
Cardio is only one component of a well rounded fitness program. In order to lose weight you need a combination of cardio training, resistance training and nutrition plan. You lose weight by burning more calories than you consume. Cardio is a great way to burn fat calories, however most people just aimlessly use a treadmill or cycle with no real purpose or goal other than to ride or run for 30 minutes. You will see the best results when you focus more on the quality of your cardio workout instead of the time spent on the treadmill/cycle. Cardio interval training using the 3 heart rates zones will have you burning fat calories while improving your resting heart rate and cardiac output.

The 3 zones are determined using the formula 220 - age, then that # x work effort
220 - 47 = 173, 173 x .65 (65% effort) = 112.4 etc. Zone 1 is 65 - 75% MHR (max heart rate), zone 2 = 80 - 85% MHR, zone 3 is 86 - 90% MHR. Using a heart rate monitor, begin in zone 1, keeping your heart rate in that zone by either adding or decreasing the workload. Once you can maintain your zone 1 for 5 days in a row for 30 minutes you are ready to add zone 2 into your routine. You will burn more calories using this type of interval training than just doing cardio for 30 minutes. You burn more calories by pushing your heart up to zone 2, then back to zone 1, then up to zone 3, back to 2 etc.
Wendy Batts
Since everyone is different there is not an exact number of days or a specific amount of time that a person should perform cardio to lose weight. The best methods to successful weight loss include circuit training, interval training and a special training system called zone training. Circuit and Interval training are incredible calorie burners as they force the body to alternate between high and low intensity exercise.  High intensity exercise is beneficial 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. Zone training teaches the body to use fat more effectively as fuel during exercise.  Also, exercising in and out of different heart rate zones challenges the body and increases the amount of energy used both during and after activity- leading to more calories being burned!    If you are new to exercise, create a solid cardio foundation performing steady cardio exercises like walking or biking for up to 30 minutes 4-5 days per week.  Once you can successfully accomplish 30 minutes of low intensity exercise for 5 days per week, it is time to kick it up a notch and incorporate the cardio training methods listed above.  Be sure to consult with your physician prior to beginning an exercise program. 
Cardio is a great way to help promote health and lose weight. However, weight loss is dependent on calorie consumption in relation to calories burned. This is dictated by the law of thermodynamics. In order for weight to decrease, an individual must burn more calories than they consume. Cardio can help to increase the total caloric burn, but the exact amount of cardio needed is difficult to define. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends each person get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week to maintain heart health. To promote weight loss, this amount and intensity should increase.

I suggest this pretty interesting approach based on research by Dr. Lynn Kravitz from University of New Mexico. She suggests using a culmination of minutes within a week.  I will say 180 to 200 minutes per week (3 hours to 3 hours and 20 minutes), which is a good place to start.  It doesn’t matter what the breakdown is. For example, it can be 10 minutes before work, 10 minutes after work, for a total of 20 minutes for 1 day. If you are doing 180 minutes, subtract 20 minutes, then you still have 160 minutes leftover for the next 6 days. If you get to the 7th day and you only did 80 minutes, you have got a lot of cardio left to do on your last day. So, it is about how many minutes of cardio you do throughout a week. Now, obviously, I am not suggesting save it all up and do 2 hours of cardio on the very last day. However, that may keep you from procrastinating the following week.

Your intensity should be fairly high, between 75 and 85% of your maximum heart rate. If you are not going by heart rate and aren’t using a heart rate monitor, then you should basically work hard enough that you are breathing too heavily to keep you from having a conversation with your neighbor about who will be the next judge on American Idol or the fate of Lindsay Lohan’s career while you are on a cardio piece of equipment.
Cardio exercise refers to any activity that places a stress on the cardiovascular system. Activities such as walking, running, swimming, jumping rope and cycling are common forms of cardio activities. However do not forget that activities of daily living can also be included as cardio exercise. Mowing the lawn, working in the garden, dancing, taking the stairs, all contribute to our daily cardio exercise. For weight loss start out slow, especially if you are new to working out. Begin with just 10 to 30 minutes of low intensity exercise three days a week. These sessions can also be split into two or three 10-minute sessions per day. As you become more fit increase the duration until you are able to perform 45 minutes three to four days a week. The next step is then increasing the intensity of your workout. Interval training is a great cardio exercise for losing weight. Alternating between periods of lower intensity exercise and higher intensity exercise is a great way to increase the overall intensity of your workout and help you burn even more calories. When it comes to weight loss cardio is only one component of a successful weight loss plan. Strength training and good nutrition are also essential components. You can work out and do as much exercise as you want but if you are still fueling your body with fast food and other poor nutritional choices you will not lose weight.

Before we talk about how much cardio you should do, you should at least know why it's so important. Cardiovascular exercise simply means that you're involved in an activity that raises your heart rate to a specific level to cause a training effect. More on that later. Here's why cardio is so important: It's one way to burn calories and help you lose weight. It makes your heart strong so that it doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood. It increases your lung capacity. It helps reduce risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. It makes you feel good. It helps you sleep better. It helps reduce stress. I could go on all day, but you get the point.

After you choose what to do, the most important element of your workout will now be how long you do it. You should work on duration before you work on anything else--it's more important to work on continuous exercise than to worry about how fast you're going or how hard you're working. If you're a beginner, start with 10-20 minutes and add more time to each workout until you're up to 30 minutes. The 'official' guidelines say to workout for 30-60 minutes most days of the week, but don't feel like you have to start at that level if you're not ready. Try starting by splitting your workouts into small, manageable workouts throughout the day. Do all those things you know you should be doing: take the stairs, walk more, stop driving around looking for that front row parking space.

The frequency of your workouts will depend on your fitness level and your schedule. Beginners should start with about 3 non-consecutive days of cardio and work their way up to more frequent sessions. The general guidelines to lose weight are four or more days a week of at least 30 minutes. Keep in mind that doing too much cardio is a no-no as well and can actually backfire. There is a point of diminishing returns, so keep it reasonable, vary your intensity, and don't forget to take rest days when needed.

Once you've gotten used to exercise and are up to 30 minutes of continuous movement, you can start working on your intensity. How hard you work is a crucial factor in your workout because how hard you work is directly related to how many calories you burn. So how hard should you work? That depends on several factors including your fitness level and your goals.

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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.