Exercise is an essential habit of healthy people. Being physically active is crucial for preventing heart disease and stroke, and keeping your cardiovascular system healthy with aerobic exercise also beneficially impacts your metabolic health. But how much cardio a week should you do? And how much cardio is too much?
The American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). According to the Association, people who need to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol should do 40 minutes of aerobic exercise of moderate to vigorous intensity three to four times a week to decrease the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Moderately Intense Aerobic Exercise
Activities like walking, running, and cycling improve the function of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Moderately intense exercises burn 3.5 to 7 calories per minute, and they can be done for longer durations than vigorously intense exercises can.
How much cardio should you do a day? Well, if you’re looking for a per-day cardio routine, then exercise for 30 minutes every day five days a week. If you do not have the time, you can also split the 30-minute session into micro-sessions of 10 minutes each, in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Consider calculating your moderate-intensity heart rate (your maximum heart rate is your age subtracted from 220) to determine where your target heart rate should be to achieve best aerobic results for your metabolic and heart health.
Vigorously Intense Aerobic Exercise
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vigorous-paced exercise burns more than 7 calories per minute, and it improves your aerobic fitness, your bone density, and your body’s ability to break down body fat. Activities that you can do at home or the gym, such as push-ups, crunches, and pull-ups at a rapid pace meet the definition of vigorous exercise. Exercise machines and sports such as football, basketball, tennis, wrestling, and boxing are also considered vigorous. You can get your weekly cardio requirements in with two 40-minute HIIT classes (bring on the burpees!) each week.
Cardio for Weight Loss
If you want to use cardio for weight loss, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you exercise for 60 to 90 minutes per day, five days a week—you can also divide any of the sessions into 30-minute segments in the morning, and in the afternoon/evening. Make sure to include both moderately intense and vigorously intense exercise in your cardio program for weight loss.
Any discussion of exercise for weight loss needs to give a nod to the importance of resistance training for both losing weight and keeping the weight off. To discover if resistance training should be added to aerobic exercises for optimal results, Duke University researchers conducted the largest study to date. After eight months of tracking 119 overweight volunteers while they performed resistance training, aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two, they found that the cardio-plus-resistance group lost the most fat while adding some lean mass.
“Minute per minute, cardio burns more calories, so it works best for reducing fat mass and body mass. Resistance training is important for maintaining lean body mass, strength, and function—being functionally fit is important for daily living no matter what your size,” co-author of the study, Cris Slentz, PhD, said.
There’s a lively debate among experts on whether you should do cardio before or after strength training…or on the same day at all. The jury is still out, but studies do suggest that if you strength-train first and finish off with cardio, you can get better results. An American Council on Exercise study found that your heart rate is higher during your cardio exercises, by about 12 beats per minute, when you’ve lifted weights beforehand. This means more calories are burned.
But…how much cardio is too much?
It’s hard to step away from the calories-in/calories-out mode of thinking, especially when you are trying to lose weight. Going crazy with the cardio can actually have unintended consequences. Chronic cardio has an impact on your hormones, especially cortisol, also known as the “stress” hormone—too much cortisol can be detrimental to your health. When you do too much cardio, your body produces excessive cortisol, which instructs your brain to store fat and inhibits your body’s ability to process sugar—if sugar isn’t processed properly, you gain weight.
You enter chronic cardio territory when you do aerobic exercise at a constant state over 75% of your maximum heart rate. That could be competing in a marathon…or simply exercising full-speed ahead on the stairmaster or spin bike for more than 60 minutes.
Research conducted on people who engage in long-term excessive exercise suggests that chronic cardio can cause heart dysfunction, plaque buildup, and stiff arteries. One study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal showed that “running distances of about 1 to 20 miles per week, speeds of 6 to 7 miles per hour, and frequencies of 2 to 5 days per week were associated with lower all-cause mortality, whereas higher mileage, faster paces, and more frequent runs were not associated with better survival.”
While the benefits of exercise to heart and overall health are numerous and proven when compared to sedentary living, too much cardio is not necessarily better. Findings from a more recent scientific review indicate that for some healthy people with potential genetic risks or a family history of heart disease, excessive exercise may be particularly problematic. The more people work out, the more their heart disease risk lowers…up to a point, when the benefits reach a plateau, and even a decline.
Amino Acids for Cardio
Amino acids are essential for muscle strength and growth, and they are especially important nutrients for optimizing the benefits of your workout routine. Taking an essential amino acid supplement before and after exercise can help optimize the muscle-building response and stimulate muscle synthesis, growth, and repair. Amino acids also delay muscle soreness so that you can return to the gym sooner, with less discomfort. Stimulating muscle protein synthesis is crucial, especially after working out—this process increases muscle strength and mass, and can help safeguard against the effect of chronic cardio.