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Cardio Scheduling: Optimizing for Goals and Performance

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Are you ready to get healthier and more fit? There are countless systems and products that promise results — some even promise them without too much in the way of sacrifice. You know better.

To be healthier and fitter takes effort, hard work, sweat, and sacrifice. It also means getting your heart rate up and keeping it there while watching and changing your diet, so how often should you do cardio?

You should aim to participate in moderately vigorous aerobic activity, like brisk walking, for 150 minutes every week. Those who participate in more vigorous or intense aerobic activities like running or jogging should look to do it for 75 minutes weekly.

This would also be in addition to muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

Those guidelines are for general health and fitness. If you’re just starting out, it’s important to ease into cardiovascular exercise regimens.

Don’t jump straight into 150 minutes a week of moderately vigorous exercise. We’ll break down all the information for ideal cardiovascular exercise habits.

How Often Should You Do Cardio?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(source) and the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition at the Department of Health and Human Services(source).

Adults should participate in 75 or 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week to experience health benefits. Whether you exercise for 75 or 150 minutes depends on how vigorous the exercise is.

Moderately intense exercise like brisk walking should be done 30 minutes daily for five days weekly, in addition to muscle-strengthening activities two days per week that focus on arms, shoulders, legs, hip, abdomen, back, and chest.

Vigorously intense aerobic activity such as jogging or running should be done for 75 minutes weekly in addition to muscle strengthening activities two days per week that focus on those same major groups of muscles.

Adding on physical activity beyond 300 minutes weekly will deliver even greater health benefits.

There are different guidelines(source) for preschool-aged children, children and adolescents, older adults, women who are pregnant or recently gave birth, and adults with disabilities and chronic health conditions.

For general health and fitness, many people recommend breaking up those 150 (or 75) minutes of weekly aerobic exercise and sessions of muscle-strengthening activity.

Building a weekly regimen(source) consisting of strength training two to three times weekly (45 to 60 minutes each time); and cardio two to three times weekly (the length of your cardio sessions will depend on the intensity of your exercise).

On the other two or three days a week? Rest.

Rest days(source) are important to allow your body to recover and restore itself so that it can return to your workouts with available energy. Rest does not mean staying still, though.

By recovery, think active recovery means your body is still moving but without heart rate targets.

Do this by stretching or walking for half an hour to an hour. But don’t include this in your weekly 75/150-minute target.

What are Cardio and Aerobic Exercise?

Cardio(source) is an exercise that increases your heart rate and gets you breathing more vigorously.

It can take the form of routine activity such as mowing the lawn, walking, or biking or more intentionally fitness-focused activity(source) such as running, swimming, cycling, tennis, or basketball.

More specifically, cardiovascular exercise is an exercise that increases your heart rate to 60% of your maximum heart rate while exercising moderately for 150 minutes weekly.

Runners jogging in New York City Central Park - Post on How Often Should You Do Cardio
Runners jogging in New York City Central Park

One way to calculate your maximum heart rate(source) is to subtract your age from 220. If you’re 50, then, your maximum heart rate is 170.

A cardiovascular exercise is a form of exercise that gets your heart rate up to 60% of that number — 102 beats per minute.

Again, there’s a difference between moderate and intense exercise when it comes to your heart, too.

Intense cardiovascular exercise(source) is an exercise that gets your heart rate up to 80% of the maximum for 75 minutes weekly.

Let’s take a 35-year-old this time. Starting from 220 and subtracting 35 takes us to 185. Eighty percent of that figure is 148.

If you’re looking to follow cardio exercise recommendations with intense aerobic activity, aim for exercises that get your heart rate to 148 for 75 minutes weekly.

How Do You Measure Your Heart Rate?

You can determine your heart rate(source) without a smartwatch or exercise watch. Find your pulse at your wrist by placing two fingertips just inside the ridge of the bone that runs below the base of your thumb.

Your fingertips will land between the bone and the tendon that runs over the top of your radial artery.

You’ll feel and may even be able to see your pulse. Take a look at your watch while counting the beats of your pulse for 15 seconds.

You don’t need to count pulse beats for a full minute. Just multiply your count over 15 seconds times four.

If you counted 30 pulse beats in 15 seconds, that’s 120 beats per minute.

Is it Bad to do Cardio Every Day?

If you’re a serious athlete(source) training for 10K races, marathons, and the like, cardio exercise every day is not a bad thing.

In fact, it may be necessary to some extent as part of a detailed and comprehensive training routine building toward a particular event or target.

You’ll also be varying the intensity of your aerobic activity every day, and balancing that with muscle-strengthening activities.

For people beginning a new health and fitness lifestyle(source) that includes cardio exercise, daily cardio is excessive and denies themselves the important benefits of (active) recovery and rest days.

Five days of weekly cardio exercise is sufficient, keeping in mind the minute’s targets, heart rate targets, and intensity of exercise considerations talked about here.

Are 30 Minutes of Cardio Enough?

It depends on how you spend those 30 minutes!

The American Heart Association recommends if you’re not really out of shape or obese, 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity(source) at a time at least a moderate level of intensity for general health and fitness.

You can break that block of time into 20 minute intervals, but aim for at least 30 minutes of activity.

As you grow in your athletic goals and routines toward being an advanced athlete(source), consider your 30 minutes of moderately intense cardio your minimum jumping-off point and grow from there either by increasing intensity or duration.

For beginners(source), people who are obese, or people who have not been physically active in a long time, 30 minutes of cardio exercise may be too long —all at once and in the beginning.

Beginners should start with 10 to 20 minutes and with moderately intense aerobic activity like brisk walking.

Do it just four or five days a week(source) without worrying about speed, distance, or repetitions.

Your sole goals are to develop new habits and to get your heart rate elevated above your baseline.

What Exercise Burns the Most Calories in 30 Minutes?

How many calories you’ll burn in any period of time performing any exercise is a function of several factors, including how much you weigh, intensely you’re exercising, and exactly how long you’ll be performing that exercise.

Twelve forms of cardiovascular exercise that burn the most calories without breaking down all the details are:

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For a detailed breakdown of calories burned performing each of those activities for an hour depending on your weight, check out 12 Exercises That Burn the Most Calories.

Final Thoughts on How Often Should You Do Cardio

For the longest time, I avoided even attempting cardio workouts as I thought it was boring and not helpful.

As I have grown in my understanding of fitness and looking at longevity as the better approach I see the benefits of cardio and a strong cardiac system.

I found that if I use a treadmill I actually enjoy cardio a tremendously higher amount, I think because I can zone out and I don’t have to focus on everything else that moves around that hurts my overall focus.

I hope this has helped you take a bigger look at your cardio choices and maybe you should look to add more cardio work back into your weekly routine for fitness.

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