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If I want to increase my fitness level, how long should I do cardio for?

Your cardio sessions should last at least 10 minutes at a time. But the longer you are able to exercise, the more calories you will burn and the more endurance you will build. Aim to slowly increase the duration of your physical activity over time to reach at least 30 minutes of continuous cardio. If you can eventually go even longer - for example, 60 minutes – that is even better.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your long-term goal is to do cardio exercise at least five times per week. Discuss your exercise plan with your physician if you are just starting out or are significantly changing your activities. Your physician can give you exercise recommendations based on your current fitness level, health history, and physical fitness goals.
To improve your fitness levels it's recommended you perform 20-60 minutes of cardio exercise at an intensity 60-90% maximal heart rate (220-age = maximal heart rate), 3-5 days a week. Work on building a strong and solid cardio foundaton first by performing 30-60 mins of cardio exercise at 60-75% maximal heart rate. When you can do this and maintain a steady heart rate regularly, then work toward increasing the intensity of your workouts by adding interval training into your cardio workout plan.

I recommended three or four times a week for 30 or 40 minutes depending on the intensity of the work out and your current fitness level.  You will be able to gauge your improvements by monitoring your time, speed, distance, and intensity levels.

In order to increase your fitness level in terms of cardio, you can progress through the incorporation of intervals into your training. The average healthy adult should be performing cardio at an intensity level of 60 - 75%, however as your body adapts to this intensity level you should progress to the second stage of cardio training with the incorporation of interval training. Upon advancement to the second stage of training, you should begin incorporating short intervals at a higher intensity level of 80 - 85% of your maximum heart rate after which you recover at 60 - 75%. As you improve and your body adapts, you should increase the duration of your higher intensity levels and decrease your time spent in the recovery zone. Eventually, your body will adapt to this type of cardio training as well, however you can continue to improve your fitness levels by advancing to the third stage of cardio training. In this advanced stage, you will begin incorporating intensity levels of 86 - 90%. In this type of training, you could spend one minute in 86 - 90% zone and then reduce your workload to 80 - 85% for one minute and then completely recover for 10 minutes in the heart rate zone of 60 - 75%.

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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.