Your workouts are very personal. They need to be tailored to your needs, goals, schedule, and preferences. Some people crave the long miles of an outdoor run. Some like the pounding beat of a Tabata workout. Whatever it takes to get us moving. But how much cardio should we actually be doing? Before we dig into this question, let's start with the facts. Every five years, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly release physical activity guidelines as part of their overall dietary recommendations. Here's the skinny on their findings related to active adults:
- Recommendation of 150 minutes a week of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity in order to receive health benefits.* (~25 minutes a day, six days a week).
- Increase to 300 minutes of moderate activity (or 150 minutes of vigorous activity) for additional/meaningful health benefits. (~50 minutes a day, six days a week).
- To prevent weight gain, some active adults may need to engage in up to 60 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise, and for those who were previously overweight, up to 90 minutes a day to sustain prior weight loss.
*Health benefits: decreased risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis. My trainer additions would include improved mobility, flexibility, agility, and balance maintenance.
What does all this mean for you? Look at your current activity level, see how it matches up with the recommendations, and then adjust your cardio allotment accordingly. Finding the right amount, type, and frequency of cardiovascular activity is highly individualized. You may be an elite athlete and need to do more than 300 minutes a week to achieve your training goals. You may be starting on your fitness journey, and the idea of 150 minutes a week might feel overwhelming.
If I was your trainer, we'd talk about your particular fitness goals. Do you want to lose weight? Get leaner? Stronger? Faster? Do you want to run a marathon or do an obstacle course like a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race? Do you simply want to move more and sit less? All of these are amazing goals but have drastically different training regimens associated with them.
Finding the right amount of cardio requires a little self-knowledge. Do you like 45-60 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical three times a week, or do you want to bang out 20-30 minutes of much higher-intensity work at that same frequency? Maybe a combination of both?
To lose weight, you are going to need to put in the time — five to six days a week for the active weight-loss portion. Always allow a recovery day, but that doesn't mean you have to be sedentary. Keep moving with a walk or restorative yoga, but allow your muscles time to repair and your energy system to rest. Constant demands on both lead to injury, overtraining, and mental fatigue; you will lose interest in continuing. Pair your work with smart eating, and you'll start to lose what you don't want and gain a lot more confidence and fitness along the way. And according to the recommendations, to maintain that weight loss, you will need to stay on your fitness path, so find something you enjoy that can become a lifelong fitness tool.
For higher performance goals, expect to put in more time and more intensity in your workouts. The recommendations also include two days of strength training a week, which you will need for any worthwhile cardio improvement. The more muscle mass you have, the more efficient you become. So lift your way to better cardio!
Whatever your particular metrics, an active lifestyle is the key to aging well and staying healthy as long as possible. Use these guidelines as a starting point. Adjust upward or downward depending on where you are now, and always give yourself room to grow. There is no magic formula, other than to get moving and stay moving, your way, every day.