How Much Cardio Does It Take To Lose Weight?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), physical activity and a healthy diet are both necessary to lose weight

You'll need to consume fewer calories than you burn, which typically requires limiting the number of calories in your daily diet. However, you'll also need to incorporate regular physical activity into your routine.

Including cardio exercise is an excellent way to burn fat (and protect your heart health). The question is, how much cardio is needed to lose weight? Keep reading to find out.

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What is cardio?

“Cardio” is any type of cardiovascular exercise that increases breathing and elevates your heart rate. It means you're performing an activity that requires oxygen—the word aerobics literally means “with oxygen.”

Cardio usually involves repetitive movements that use your large muscle groups, like the upper body or legs. For example, cycling and running are forms of cardio.

How much cardio you'll require to lose weight will depend on certain factors like your current diet, age, weight, and daily activity level.

How does cardio help you lose weight?

You achieve weight loss when you can burn more calories than you eat. Although some people prefer to diet strictly to reduce their calories, the healthiest and most efficient way is to combine a healthy, balanced diet with cardio and strength training.

Cardio is an essential component for weight loss because you can:

Burn maximum calories

As you get your pulse into the target heart rate zone, you breathe harder, your blood pumps faster, and you sweat more, all of which causes your body to burn more calories.²

The longer and harder you work out, the more calories you're going to burn. For instance, if you're 150lbs, you can burn roughly 150 calories by taking a 30-minute, brisk walk. 

Avoid getting too restrictive about eating

When you burn calories through cardio, you won't have to cut out as many food calories. And if you’re not following a strict diet, it’s easier to get balanced nutrition from various food groups.

Find more ways to lose weight without going on a diet here.

Boost your calorie burn by dialing up the intensity

Even minor intensity changes like climbing hills, running faster, trying new activities, or jumping higher helps accelerate your metabolism and capacity to burn fat.

Create a balanced workout with recovery time

After lifting weights (strength training), it’s essential to allow your body to recover and grow stronger. It’s usually possible to do some cardio daily without worrying about over-training or injury.

How much cardio activity do I need?

Though the answer to "how much cardio should I do to lose weight?" is going to vary by person, here are some recommendations for intervals and types of exercise to consider:

The CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that you follow a weekly workout routine, consisting of at least one of the following weekly:

150—300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (brisk walking, badminton, light bike ride)

75—150  minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (running, hiking, soccer)

(Or an equal combination of the two)

Public health experts also suggest performing strength-building activities that involve your major muscle groups at least twice a week (such as lifting weights, dancing, practicing yoga, climbing stairs, or resistance band training).

Any activity that helps build lean muscle also helps you burn calories by increasing your metabolism (even when you're not exercising).

Following these physical activity guidelines, coupled with a nutritious diet, leads to weight loss for most people.³

Which cardio exercises burn weight the fastest?

To maximize your time exercising, you'll want to consider engaging in physical activities that will burn the most calories in the shortest amount of time. Usually, this involves using your lower body's large muscles at a moderate or vigorous intensity.

The CDC states that a 154-pound person can burn between 140-295 calories in 30 minutes doing cardio exercises.⁴

Here’s roughly how many calories you’ll burn by doing these types of cardio for 30 minutes:

Swimming ➝ 255 calories

Cycling (>10 mph) ➝ burns 295 calories

Running (5 mph) ➝ 295 calories

Hiking burns ➝ 185 calories

Dancing ➝ 165 calories

Walking (3.5 mph) ➝ 140 calories

How often do I need to do cardio to lose weight?

Knowing how often you should do cardio and strength training to lose weight will depend on how fast you're looking to see results.

The general health recommendation is to lose no more than one to two pounds per week⁵.

The amount of weight you lose will depend on how much exercise you do and how well you stick to your diet. It may take exercising four to five days a week to see results and make progress over time.

However, keep in mind that you’ll have to build up if you haven’t been very active. For instance, you can start working out two or three days a week; you could then gradually work up to five days a week.

You'll also want to combine different exercises, such as:

  • Cardio

  • Core work

  • Strength training

  • Stretching

Getting started with cardio as a beginner

To lose a pound, you have to burn 3,500 calories more than your body needs. If you have a weight loss goal of losing one to two pounds per week, you're looking at a 1,000 calorie-a-day deficit.

So, if you usually eat 2,000 calories a day, you could decrease your calorie intake to 500 calories a day and burn an additional 500 calories by doing cardio exercise.

Learn more about how many calories you should eat if you want to lose weight here.

Here's a sample weight-loss oriented routine:

  • Cardio: Perform 30 to 60-minute cardio sessions three to five days a week

  • Strength training: Perform strength training exercises two to three days a week

  • Stretching and flexibility: Protect yourself from injury and improve mobility by stretching

  • Rest: Take one or two days a week just to rest (you might also engage in active recovery with light stretching or yoga)

The lowdown

Remember, when it comes to losing weight, use various exercise methods, not just cardio workouts. For maximum weight loss, combine cardio and weight training. 

You might also need to make a change in your diet. Based on your personal weight loss goal and your body type, you’ll need to determine how to burn more calories than you eat based.

To stay satisfied even when creating a calorie deficit in your diet, make sure your meals and snacks include healthy fats (things like nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish) as well as protein and complex carbohydrates.

Here are the best foods to eat when trying to lose weight, as well as what to avoid.

  1. Physical activity for a healthy weight | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  2. Target heart rates chart | American Heart Association

  3. How many calories are used in typical activities? | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  4. Physical activity guidelines for americans 2nd edition | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  5. Losing weight | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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