How long should you do cardio for?
The recommended amount of weekly cardiovascular exercise for adults is: 150–300 minutes at moderate intensity or 75–150 minutes at vigorous intensity.
You can divide this into sessions spread across several days.
But the amount of exercise that’s best for you — and how long you should work out for — will depend on factors like your age and health.
If these recommendations sound like a lot, think of them as targets to aim for.
Any cardio is better than none, and you can see health benefits from relatively small amounts each day.
Below, we dive deeper into how much cardio you should do and for how long. We also consider how often you should get this type of exercise and how intense your workouts should be.
What is cardio?
“Cardio” is short for cardiovascular exercise. It involves continual movement that gets your heart pumping and increases your breathing.
It’s also known as endurance training and aerobic exercise.
sports like tennis or soccer
Cardio generally involves the large muscles in your body, like your shoulders, biceps, triceps, glutes, and quads.
What's LISS cardio?
“LISS” stands for low-intensity, steady-state. It involves exercising at a consistent low intensity for a prolonged period, generally 30–60 minutes.
LISS cardio should still get your blood pumping, but you shouldn’t go above 70% of your maximum heart rate. To calculate this, subtract your age from 220.
If you’re able to talk or sing comfortably, you’re exercising at a low intensity.
Examples of LISS cardio include:
some types of housework, like vacuuming
What's HIIT cardio?
“HIIT” stands for high-intensity interval training. It’s a way of squeezing a challenging, effective workout into a short period.
HIIT sessions generally last around 30 minutes. They involve short sets of intense exercise — usually around 30 seconds each — spaced out with short periods of rest or low-intensity exercise.
HIIT combines both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. Because it’s so intense, every set counts as cardio.
During a HIIT class, you’re encouraged to work as hard as you can. Your heart rate should reach 80–90% of your maximum.
An example HIIT class might look like this, with 15–20 seconds of slow marching between each activity:
jumping jacks: 30 seconds
tricep dips: 30 seconds
high knees: 30 seconds
push-ups: 30 seconds
squats: 30 seconds
sit-ups: 30 seconds
side lunges: 30 seconds
rest: 60 seconds
You'd then repeat this sequence two more times.
Cardio exercise involves continual movement to raise your pulse and breathing rate. It has different levels of intensity.
Examples of low-intensity cardio include regular walking and light swimming. Examples of high-intensity cardio include sprinting and jumping jacks.
Moderate-intensity exercises sit in the middle, including things like brisk walking and leisurely cycling.
How much should you do a day?
In the United States, the recommendation is for healthy adults to aim for one of the following, divided into a number of sessions each week:
150–300 minutes (or more) of moderate-intensity cardio
75–150 minutes of vigorous cardio
an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous cardio
Split across several days, 150 minutes could involve:
five 30-minute sessions
three 50-minute sessions
two 1-hour and one 30-minute session
If these numbers seem high, think of them as targets to work toward. Doing any extra movement has benefits.
Research suggests that as few as six 10–20 second sprints per week, with some lower-intensity activity as a warm-up, could improve fitness by almost 10% within 2 months.
If sprinting is too much to begin with, try a more moderate cardio exercise like brisk walking. Start with 10–15 minutes a few times a week and gradually work your way up.
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How long should I do cardio for?
The length of your cardio sessions will depend on how often you do them and how much effort you put in.
Intense sessions need to be shorter than moderate ones. Less intense sessions need to be longer to give the same results.
Below are some examples of exercises with different intensities.
If you’re just starting out, these amounts might seem intimidating. If so, just remember that any amount of cardio is good for you, and you can work your way up at your own pace.
Brisk walking is one example. To reach 150 minutes — the lower end of the recommended range — you’ll walk for 30 minutes five times a week.
To get to the full 300 minutes, you could increase each of those walks to 1 hour.
Or, you could add 30-minute sessions of other moderate-intensity cardio, like leisurely cycling or doing yard work.
If you don’t have much time but want to challenge yourself, a short, high-intensity approach like HIIT might be right for you.
Five 15-minute workouts, or three 25-minute sessions, will get you to the lower end of the recommended 75–150 minutes of vigorous exercise.
To hit the top end, you could do five 30-minute HIIT classes a week.
Or, you could add 1 hour and 15 minutes of swimming or cycling across the week to your five 15-minute HIIT classes.
How often should I do cardio?
The U.S. guidelines suggest that doing some cardio on at least 3 days a week can have health benefits.
Spacing your exercise out like this may also help reduce the risk of injury and keep you from tiring out.
If you’re not used to exercising yet, start with a few sessions of moderate activity — like walking — spread across the week.
Listen to your body, and don’t push yourself too hard if you start feeling unwell or anything gets painful.
If you have a disability or a long-term health condition, it may restrict what cardio you can do. If that’s the case, remember that any cardio is better than none.
Is cardio good for your heart health?
Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) refers to how efficiently your heart and lungs supply your muscles with oxygen.
Though doctors often look more closely at other risk factors for heart disease — such as high blood pressure and obesity — most experts believe that CRF is also important.
Increasing the amount of cardio you do is the best way of improving your CRF.
One large-scale study from 2006 found that just one session of high-intensity exercise each week was associated with a significantly lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
Other health benefits of cardio
Improved heart health is just one of the potential benefits of cardio. Here are some others:
Immune function: Exercise boosts your immune system. Older people who do more physical activity may be less prone to colds and the flu, while regular runners may have a reduced risk of dying from lung diseases.
Brain health: Cardio increases blood flow to the brain, which can improve memory and focus. Regular exercise could also reduce your risk of dementia and might help improve some mental health conditions.
Sleep quality: Regular cardio could help you get to sleep more easily and sleep for longer. It may also improve sleep quality in people with sleep disorders.
Blood sugar control: Repeated, prolonged, and large blood sugar increases after you eat are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. Regular exercise can help improve how your blood sugar levels respond after you eat.
To learn more about this last point, check out the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast on exercise and blood sugar control.
What about weight loss?
What you eat is more important than exercise when it comes to managing your weight.
But exercise can still contribute to weight management, and it can help you maintain a healthy weight once you reach it.
Tips for maximizing the effects of cardio
Here are some ways to make the most of your cardio sessions:
Include anaerobic exercise: These are muscle-strengthening activities like weight training. Adding them to your cardio routine at least twice a week has extra health benefits. And having stronger muscles will help support your cardio workouts.
Stay hydrated: When you exercise, you sweat. This can quickly lead to dehydration, making you more tired and less able to stay cool. Sipping water regularly during a workout can help you avoid this.
At ZOE, we run the largest nutrition science study in the world. And we know that the ideal diet looks different for everyone.
Our personalized nutrition program assesses your gut health and how your blood sugar and fat levels respond to different foods. With this information, we provide advice specific to your body.
To learn more about how it works, take our free quiz.
The recommended amount of cardio is 150–300 minutes at moderate intensity or 75–150 minutes at vigorous intensity spread across the week.
You can divide this into sessions lasting from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on how hard and how often you work out.
If you’re new to this, it’s important to see these recommendations as targets to aim for. Start with shorter, low-intensity sessions and build up from there.
If you have a health condition or disability that limits how much exercise you can do, remember that any cardio is better than none, and it can still offer health benefits.
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