WebMD BlogsFood and Fitness

How Much Cardio Do You Really Need?

Gina Harney - Blogs
By Gina HarneyCertified personal trainerSeptember 7, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

It seems like I see the same people on the cardio machines every time I go to the gym. They run, climb, or cycle for over an hour – and yes they do work up a sweat, but they’re also unknowingly burning their precious muscle away. Often, they’ll wonder why they don’t look leaner, or why they’ve hit a plateau with their routines.

Cardio provides so many incredible benefits. It makes our heart stronger, increases endurance, burns calories/fat, can make you faster, and most of the time, it can be a lot of fun. But, after a certain point, you can actually start to see diminishing returns from cardio if you’re doing too much.

So, how do we find the sweet spot?

According to the recommendations from The American College of Sports Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we should be aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise per week. If you’re doing a moderate activity, like a quick walk or jog, a fun dance class, or a moderate cycling class, you would only need to do 30 minutes five days a week to check that box. For more intense cardio, like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Orangetheory or another intense bootcamp, three 25-30 minute sessions per week would be enough.

When in doubt, 30 minutes of cardio most days of the week is a good rule to follow. The sweet spot will be something that makes you feel energized and not depleted. You’ll also want to focus on doing cardio that you enjoy!

Some good rules of thumb:

  • Pair cardio with strength training. A solid routine includes cardio, strength, flexibility/mobility, and rest. Even if you’re not getting in a traditional workout, focus on ways to be active throughout the day. Strength training will help to protect and build lean muscle, which burns more calories than fat.
  • Alternate cardio intensities. Try to vary the type of cardio you’re doing (a challenging day, an easy day, a hill day, an off day, etc.) to provide adequate recovery time and prevent burnout.
  • Instead of adding time to your workout, add a challenge. On the treadmill, you can play with the incline or add in speed intervals as a simple way to make the workout more exciting and challenging without being on there longer.
  • Try new classes! This is a fun way to try out new routines and change up your cardio sessions. Try an indoor cycling, dance, or Zumba class. If you’re working out at home, check out the Fitness Marshall’s dance cardio videos.
WebMD Blog
© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:
About the Author
Gina Harney

Gina Harney is the blogger behind the healthy lifestyle brand, The Fitnessista, which reaches millions of viewers all over the world. She’s been featured on Greatist, Forbes, Buzzfeed, Shape, Fitness Magazine, and Well + Good. She’s the author of “HIIT It!” and the voice behind the Healthy In Real Life podcast. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

More from the Food and Fitness Blog

  • photo of almonds

    Grab and Go Snacks for Type 2

    You’ve likely been there – heading out the door, knowing that you should grab a snack on your way out because you’re not sure what food options will be available at your destination. Whatever the ...

  • photo of gina leg exercises

    How to Get Strong, Toned Legs Without Squats or Lunges

    Squats and lunges are the go-to exercises for strengthening the lower body, but they're not the only options.

View all posts on Food and Fitness

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More