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How Much Cardio To Lose Weight?

By: Holly Smith, M.D. - Osteopathic Medicine, B.S. - Dietetics, NASM-PES Certified Trainer,

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

how much cardio to lose weight

If you've ever slogged it out on a treadmill or elliptical only to see you've burned enough calories for a small snack, you've probably wondered, “How much cardio to lose weight?”

Being a busy mom means that you don’t have a ton of spare time to go out for a run, or even use a treadmill or elliptical at home.

Luckily, you don’t need countless hours of cardio to see major fitness benefits!

And while cardio is an important part of any weight loss program, it's not the be-all, end-all.

You need to incorporate the right types of cardio along with a comprehensive fitness program, to truly see weight loss benefits.

Here's how to do just that and finally put to rest the question of, “How much cardio to lose weight?”

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Weight Loss Requires Cardio and Strength Training

If you are really serious about dropping some pounds, you're going to need to include both cardio and strength training exercises.

Cardio is great because you will burn calories during and after your workout. With shorter, high-intensity workouts, the key is to make sure that you really push yourself.

Even lower intensity cardio is great because it will help you burn calories while also allowing your body to recover.

Along with cardio, resistance and strength training are also essential for weight loss and decreasing fat mass.

Not only do these muscle-building sessions burn calories, but they also increase your lean muscle and boost your metabolism.

Having a higher fat-free, or lean muscle mass is essential to keeping your metabolism up.

This keeps your body burning calories throughout the day, adding to your weight loss potential.

Find out why strength training for women over 40 is important to combat muscle loss and promote longevity!

Importance of Cardio For Long Term Health

Cardio helps with weight loss, and it is also a vital component for overall health.

Research has shown that even moderate weight loss can decrease your risk for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.

Looking great isn’t the only perk!

Combined training with both cardio and resistance exercise not only improves fitness but can also prevent or lessen the impact of chronic health problems.

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How Does Cardio Help You Lose Weight?

Cardiovascular exercises burn loads of calories both during and after your workout.

The intensity and the duration of the exercise both determine how well your body continues to burn calories throughout the day.

Most people are familiar with traditional cardio workouts, like running, biking, swimming, or the numerous other fitness machines that are available at the gym.

Usually, these exercises are done as longer endurance workouts, typically at a lower intensity for a longer duration of time.

But what if you don’t have the time, or simply get bored and want to stop halfway through a longer cardio workout?

That is where mixing up your endurance workouts with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) comes into play to give you great weight loss cardio sessions.

Studies have found that HIIT can produce similar 24-hour calorie-burning benefits as traditional endurance activities (like running or biking), but with a lower time commitment.

This is great news for the busy mom looking to use cardio to lose weight!

Learn about the best types of cardio for fat loss and the science behind cardio for WOMEN!

Is HIIT Better Than Traditional Cardio?

Both high-intensity cardio and lower endurance cardio are great, and one type of exercise isn’t necessarily “better” than another.

But since you can get similar weight loss benefits from HIIT in a shorter period of time, this can help on days when you are really crunched for time.

It also means that you can tailor your cardio workout to what you enjoy, and what fits into your schedule!

You can look at it this way: If you are looking to do something lower intensity you want to pick activities that you enjoy and that you will be able to sustain for at least 45 minutes or so.

If you hate running, it’s unlikely that you'll stick with it long enough to gain any health benefits.

That is why it is so important to find activities you like doing so that you are motivated to keep going!

Now, if time is a limiting factor, lower-intensity cardio exercises aren’t going to be as effective over just 20 minutes.

But you can up the intensity and do a shorter workout with high-intensity intervals to gain similar benefits as longer, lower intensity workouts.

This is where workouts like HIIT and Tabata are beneficial.

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You Need to Do Strength Training Too!

As mentioned above, strength training is also essential for fat burning.

For one, while you may burn slightly fewer calories during the workout as compared to cardio training, you still are burning a substantial amount of calories.

Plus, adding lean body mass to your frame increases your metabolic rate and allows you to burn more calories throughout the day!

In addition, increasing muscle mass will give you a lean, fit physique.

Strength training will give your body muscular definition in areas that you once could only find that stubborn, hard to lose fat.

And, strength training will help you maintain muscle mass while you are trying to lose weight in other areas.

So, How Much Cardio to Lose Weight?

Answering how much cardio to lose weight will depend on your specific goals.

Many sources will cite that you need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.

This means you would need to burn 500 extra calories a day to lose one pound a week.

So in theory, you could aim for cardio and strength training workouts that would burn these extra calories based on your weight loss goals.

While this “3,500 calorie rule” may be pretty close for short-term weight loss, there are some caveats to this.

Over time, your metabolism will change based on your body composition, which will also affect how your body burns calories.

The more weight you lose, the harder it may be to lose additional pounds — something many people know as the dreaded weight loss plateau.

There are mathematical models to help predict weight loss, but the most important thing to remember is that you need to burn more calories than you consume.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has developed a great calculator to help you determine your calorie needs based on your activity level, age, and sex.

You can use models like this to guide you on how to adjust your physical activity and calorie consumption based on your weight loss goals.

Over time you will find that the best way to gauge how much cardio to lose weight will be to track your progress over time based on your activity levels.

Your diet also plays a big role here! You can’t out-exercise bad nutrition choices!

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Cardio Recommendations

The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week.

However, they also note that you will have even more health benefits by being active at least 300 minutes, or 5 hours a week.

In addition, you should also add muscle-strengthening workouts at least 2 days per week.

This can include activities like biking, running, swimming, or any type of endurance activity!

You want to perform these exercises for around 45 minutes at a time if you are doing lower intensity activity and are looking to use cardio for weight loss.

However, if you are time-crunched, you can also do higher intensity workouts in shorter periods of time and still get the same weight loss and cardiovascular benefits.

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High-Intensity Intervals

Any workout is going to burn calories to help you lose weight.

However, the higher the intensity of the workout, the more calories you will continue to burn, even after the workout has ended.

This is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC for short.

So if you are short on time, the key is to really up the intensity. This ensures that even a workout that is low in minutes will be high in fat burning and strength building.

It should be noted that both lower intensity continuous cardio and high-intensity intervals both produce EPOC, but intervals can produce the same amount of EPOC in a shorter period of time.

For example, one study showed that two minutes of sprint intervals produced similar post-exercise oxygen consumption to 30 minutes of continuous running at a lower intensity.

So if you want to substitute a 45 minute lower intensity workout with a 20-25 minute HIIT workout, this is a great way to use cardio for weight loss.

Metabolic Resistance Training

Another way to lose weight and get more bang for your buck is to incorporate metabolic resistance training workouts.

These workouts use both cardio and resistance training to burn major calories so that you can shed that excess fat.

Metabolic resistance training basically uses weight training or resistance workouts combined in a circuit format to keep your heart rate up and your muscles firing.

In a way, it is similar to HIIT in that you are moving from one exercise to the next.

But you will be incorporating more strength training exercises as compared to purely cardio exercises.

Some great examples of metabolic resistance training workouts can be found at the Fit Mother Project.

The free Fit Mom Jumpstart is one example of using metabolic resistance training for weight loss.

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How to Schedule Cardio For Weight Loss

The best way to use cardio for weight loss is to incorporate a mix of high intensity and lower intensity cardio along with metabolic resistance training.

While HIIT and Tabata workouts are a great way to fit in an efficient cardio workout, they also put a lot of stress on the body.

And if you solely do high-intensity exercises you will be putting yourself at a higher risk of injury.

By alternating days with lower intensity cardio, your body will have more time to recover between workouts.

For lower intensity workouts like jogging or walking, you want to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour.

Your higher intensity workouts can be shorter in duration, around 20-30 minutes.

You will want to stagger these workouts to not overstress your body with consecutive days of high-intensity cardio.

Aim to do cardio 3-5 times a week, with half of the days being lower intensity endurance activities, and the other days using high-intensity workouts.

As mentioned above, you also want to add 2-3 days of strength training to maximize your weight loss potential.

If you are able to, you could do strength training on the same days as your lower-intensity cardio, or swap out a cardio day for a metabolic resistance training day.

For example, your week could look something like this:

  • Monday: High-intensity cardio
  • Tuesday: Low-intensity cardio plus metabolic resistance training
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: High-intensity cardio
  • Friday: Metabolic resistance training
  • Saturday: Low-intensity cardio
  • Sunday: Rest

Always remember to listen to your body, and if you feel like you need an extra rest day take it!

Especially early on in your fitness journey, you want to be sure that you slowly increase the intensity to avoid injury.

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Using Cardio for Weight Loss

Cardio is a great way to stay in shape but is important to find the proper balance and to figure out how much cardio to lose weight.

Obviously, everyone will have their own specific weight loss goals, but there are general recommendations you can follow to reach your fitness goals.

By incorporating a mix of low- and high-intensity cardio along with strength training, you will be able to effectively and efficiently lose weight and get into the best shape of your life!

Holly Smith

Writer, The Fit Father Project & Fit Mother Project

Holly is an osteopathic physician, runner, triathlete, and fitness and nutrition enthusiast.

She is board certified in nephrology and internal medicine, has a bachelors degree in dietetics and is a certified personal trainer with NASM-PES certification.

Holly has completed four full ironmans, twelve marathons, countless half ironmans, olympic distance triathlons, half marathons and numerous other road races.

Holly joined the Fit Father Project in May 2019 as a regular writer, contributing articles on health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition.

She has also recently qualified for the 2020 World Championships for Ironman 70.3, in New Zealand!

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on how much cardio to lose weight.

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