Weight loss is a journey, and there are many roads to take when working towards your #Goals. One of the tried and true routes toward shedding pounds and pumping up your health quotient is cardio.

But just how much cardio does it take to lose weight?

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Short for cardiovascular exercise, cardio is exercise that pumps up your heart and breathing rates. It’s also often referred to as aerobic exercise.

A cardio sesh will:

  • increase your heart rate and keep it in an aerobic zone (about 50%-70% of your max heart rate).
  • increase your breathing and get you breaking a sweat
  • use large muscle groups (like your upper body or legs)

Activities that are considered cardio include:

Stuck at home?

You can also get your cardio in at home by using machines like an elliptical, treadmill, a spin machine, or rower.

Weighted and bodyweight exercises that get your heart rate and breathing up can also help you get cardio in.

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Yes, cardio burns calories and can help you lose weight, but there are other things to consider.

You need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight, meaning you need to burn more calories than you consume. So, losing weight depends a lot on diet and how much you exercise each week to create this calorie deficit.

A diet of complex carbs, fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and protein works in tandem with regular exercise to help you lose weight. Healthy weight loss involves shedding about 1 to 2 pounds per week.

How fast it takes you to burn calories from your cardio workouts also involves a few other factors, like:

  • Age: The younger you are, the more calories you’ll burn.
  • Gender: Women burn calories slower than men do.
  • Weight: The higher your weight, the more calories you’ll burn.
  • Body composition: Folks with more muscle mass will burn more calories than those with a higher percentage of fat.
  • Workout intensity: A more intense workout will burn more calories.
  • Overall daily activity: If you live a generally sedentary lifestyle, you’ll burn fewer calories.

You can also use this handy bodyweight planner tool from the National Institute of Health to get a sense of just how many calories your body needs to burn to lose weight.

More cardio benefits

Besides weight loss, regular aerobic exercise can have a slew of other benefits, like:

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio) per week for substantial change.

Moderate intensity cardio includes a brisk walk that gets you a little sweaty and breathing a little heavier than usual, but you can still talk. Vigorous-intensity cardio makes you breathe fast and hard, making it too hard to talk (think a killer HIIT sesh or a run).

So, at a bare minimum, you could do a 30-minute brisk walk 5 days a week to get some cardio in. But depending on your body, you might need to spend more time walking or try something more intense.

Does just cardio burn fat?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of calories you need to burn to lose one pound of fat varies based on each person’s unique metabolism.

On average, it takes burning about 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound. This is why it takes about a week to lose a pound, since all your workouts are working toward this calorie burning goal.

But just cardio alone, isn’t ideal for weight loss. While a cardio workout does help you burn more calories during your workout, strength training helps your body continue to burn calories throughout the day and build muscle.

Combining the power of cardio with regular strength training and a healthy diet will give you primo results.

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If weight loss is your goal, choosing exercises that burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time will help you make the most out of your workout. Choose moderately to vigorously intense activities that use your lower body’s larger muscles.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that a 154-pound person doing a 30-minute cardio workout can burn between 140 and 295 calories. Popular cardio activities and the estimated number of calories they can burn in 30 minutes include:

Cardio exerciseCalories burned
walking (3.5 mph)
140 calories
dancing165 calories
hiking185 calories
swimming255 calories
running (5 mph)295 calories
bicycling (>10 mph)295 calories

Keep in mind that these are estimates. The actual number of calories that you burn will depend on your current weight and other factors unique to your body.

To create your own workout plan, you’ll want cardio to take center stage on most days, and let strength training make a guest appearance.

  • Cardio: Get in 30 to 60 minutes of cardio exercises 3 to 5 days per week.
  • Strength training: Include strength training exercises that involve your major muscle groups 2 to 3 days each week.
  • Stretching and flexibility: Make sure you incorporate stretching and flexibility exercises daily.
  • Rest: Reserve 1 to 2 days each week for rest. If you’d like, rest days can include light stretching, yoga, or other gentle movement options.

At a glance, your weekly weight loss workout routine could look something like this:

Monday30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout
Tuesday30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout
Thursday25 min vigorous cardio
Friday30 min moderate cardio and full-body workout
Saturday25 min vigorous cardio
Sunday rest

New to working out?

If you’re new to regular exercise, try these tips and tricks to make it easier and more fun:

  • Plan it out: Stay motivated with a weekly exercise plan.
  • Have fun: Choose activities that you enjoy. Dance around, participate in a sport, go for a hike — whatever makes you happy!
  • Buddy up: Find a friend to exercise with to stay motivated.
  • Get outside: Get fresh air and do something outdoors. Go for a walk, take a hike, or jog in the park.
  • Warm up: Be sure to warm up and cool down before and after a workout so you don’t get injured
  • Look for a local event: Sign up for a charity event or a community sports league for a fun and motivating time.
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Do what works for you and your routine. If you hate running with a burning passion, walk or hike.

Combining cardio, strength training, and a healthy diet will put you on a path to weight loss. Starting with just 30 minutes of walking a day can get you going. Then you can build up to adding different types of cardio and strength training at least twice a week.

Or if you really want to challenge yourself, look for fitness classes or activities that combine cardio and strength training in one sweet sweat sesh.