Cardio is a key component for an effective workout routine. Cardiovascular exercise, which includes any form of aerobic activity that increases the heart rate and breathing for a sustained period of time, can help you get in shape more quickly than weight training alone. It also helps with your stamina and overall conditioning – two areas where many people tend to struggle. And while it’s not as efficient at burning calories as strength training, cardio still burns plenty of fat and improves your fitness level even if you’re doing it just 10 minutes per day. Find out more about best cardio for weight loss here!
The following 11 workouts are some great examples of how to maximize the benefits from cardio while minimizing its drawbacks:
Walking on an incline helps you burn twice as many calories as walking at the same speed on a flat surface, as it increases the intensity (10). Instead of heading to your usual cardio machine of choice, try some inclines on either a treadmill or some other piece of equipment if available.
If you’ve never tried sprints before, they may seem like too much hard work – but they really aren’t. Short-distance sprints are great not only for improving cardiovascular conditioning and burning fat quickly. They also because they help build muscle mass (all those fast-twitch fibers) (11). They’re best done at the end of a normal workout session when you feel fresh; aim for 10–20 seconds worth of sprinting at all-out intensity, then rest for the same duration before repeating.
If you have the time, you’ll burn more calories running than doing other cardio activities. However, if you are overweight or have joint problems, running may not be your best option because it puts a lot of stress on your joints. If this is the case for you, try sprinting instead, which still burns plenty of fat and gives you less impact on your body.
Cycling is another great workout that’s low-impact but still challenging enough to make a noticeable difference in your fitness levels. It also works all areas of the legs, as well as the core muscles – making it one of the best workouts overall. You can either go stationary cycling indoors or pedal on roads or trails depending on your preference.
Swimming is one of the best exercises for overall conditioning as it works all the muscles in your body. It’s also a great cardiovascular workout, and because you’re in water it’s a very low-impact activity – ideal for those with joint problems (13). If you’re not a strong swimmer, start off by swimming laps at a slower pace and work your way up to more challenging ones.
The elliptical machine is one of the most popular cardio machines as it’s easy on the joints and provides a good aerobic workout. It can be tough to stick with this type of exercise if you’re not used to it, so start off shorter sessions and gradually increase the time as you become more fit.
Rowing is a great way to get your cardio in, especially if you have a bad back or problems with other types of weight-bearing exercises. It works both the upper and lower body while also engaging the core muscles, so it’s a full body workout in a single exercise (8). Plus, you can burn up to 500 calories every hour on the rowing machine – that’s as much as biking!
If you’re short on time, circuit training is the way to go. A circuit is a series of exercises that are done back-to-back with little or no rest in between. They usually work different muscle groups and can be completed faster than traditional cardio. Your heart rate will also stay elevated throughout the entire workout which means you’ll be burning more calories overall by getting in shape quickly.
This may seem like a kids’ activity, but skipping is a great way to get your cardio in. It’s not only a good workout for the legs, but it also challenges your core and arm muscles. Plus, you can do it anywhere – all you need is a skipping rope!
If there’s one thing that beats running as far as calorie burn goes, it’s stair climbing. This high-intensity exercise can help you lose weight quickly and improve your cardiovascular fitness levels at the same time (5). If you don’t have access to stairs, try using a stair climber at your gym. These machines are designed for stair climbing, are very effective at burning fat, and you can even change the difficulty settings to make it more challenging.
Finally, walking is an excellent way to get in shape while also making sure you stick to your weight loss goals. It’s low-impact, simple and can be done anywhere by anyone. All you need is a good pair of running shoes.
If you’re not accustomed to exercising regularly it may take some time before you start seeing results. Over time though, the benefits will become clear as your fitness levels increase and you’ll feel better overall. Combine it with strength training like heavy lifting or push ups for maximum results.
What Are The Benefits Of Cardio Exercises?
There are several reasons why you should incorporate the best cardio workouts into your fitness regimen. They include:
Improved Cardiorespiratory Endurance
Cardiorespiratory endurance is one of the key aspects you should develop if you want to get in shape. This refers to your body’s ability to take in oxygen and deliver it to all of your muscles while they’re working hard. This then affects how fast and how long you can work out before fatigue sets in. It also improves your overall stamina, making it easier for you to get through daily tasks like walking up stairs, or cleaning the house – activities you wouldn’t necessarily think twice about if you were fit (1).
Aerobic exercises like running provide an amazing cardio workout that develops this important muscle group. However, even activities like cycling long distances on a regular basis are enough to help improve this aspect of fitness.
Increased Strength And Endurance
Since cardio is all about getting your heart rate up, you’ll also see major benefits with respect to strength training. In fact, many people who’ve started a cardio workout program eventually switch to weightlifting. That’s because they notice such a big difference in terms of the weight they can lift and their overall physical capabilities. You’ll find it easier to complete home improvement projects or go for that jog around the lake since your muscles will be more efficient at converting oxygen into energy and won’t tire as easily (4).
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Increase In Metabolism
Another benefit of regular aerobic workouts is an increase in metabolism. Oftentimes we associate this term with losing weight, but it’s important not to confuse the two concepts as one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. Metabolism simply refers to your body’s ability to burn energy, which is why regular cardio has been found to help you lose weight by making it easier for you to stay active during the day (2). You’ll find yourself wanting to go on more walks, clean the house and even put in extra time at work since your energy levels will be higher than ever before.
Believe it or not, one of the best benefits of cardio exercises is stress relief. When you’re working out, your body releases endorphins – the feel-good hormones – which help to improve your mood and make you feel happier overall. In some cases, this can be even more beneficial than prescription medications since there are no negative side effects and the results are long lasting. You’ll find that after a good cardio workout, you’ll be less stressed and more relaxed (3). This is an excellent way to start winding down after a long day or prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Last but not least, another amazing benefit of cardio exercises is disease prevention. By getting your heart rate up on a regular basis, you’re decreasing your risk for conditions like obesity, heart disease, stroke and even some forms of cancer (9). You don’t need to become a marathon runner overnight, but making sure you include aerobic activities into your routine at least a few times a week is an excellent way to stay healthy and happy for years to come.
What Are The Side Effects Of Too Much Cardio?
Cardio is a great way to stay in shape and improve your overall health, but you should be aware of the side effects that come with regular exercise. While this varies from person to person, some of the most common problems include muscle soreness, dehydration and leg cramps. In most cases, these issues aren’t anything major as they tend to go away after a few days or weeks (12). That said, if you ever feel pain while working out, check with your doctor right away to make sure it’s nothing serious.
One of the most important side effects worth mentioning is loss of muscle mass, especially when cardio is done excessively and without the necessary diet changes. When you’re working out, your body is burning both fat and muscle. To make sure you’re losing weight in a healthy way, it’s important to have a good balance between cardio and strength training. Too much of one without the other can lead to problems down the road.
How Should My Diet Change To Prevent Loss Of Muscle Mass?
One of the most common mistakes people make when starting a cardio workout program is overlooking their diet. If you want to lose weight without losing any muscle mass, it’s crucial that you make some changes to your eating habits before kicking off your routine. For example, many people think they can work out an extra hour every day because they’re now on a healthy diet. However, doing so can actually have the opposite effect and lead to serious problems in the long run.
Instead of increasing cardio workouts by double or triple, try focusing on building more lean muscle through strength training instead. Many people are surprised by how much they can lift after just a few weeks with regular physical activity. This is also one of the best ways to ensure you maintain your muscle mass while losing weight. In addition, make sure you’re eating enough protein; this will help your muscles recover after a workout and prevent them from breaking down.
Your diet should include (6):
- Lots of protein. Experts recommend that adults consume about 0.8 grams of protein for every pound they weigh.
- Healthy fats such as fish oils and omega-3 fatty acids. These help support your joints and digestion, while also providing a healthy dose of energy before a workout.
- Limited carbohydrate intake. If you’re trying to lose weight quickly without losing too much muscle mass, it’s crucial that you limit carbs to one or two servings per day. Choose whole grains over traditional breads and pastas, as well as other complex carbs.
- Vegetables should be included in every meal – try to eat at least two servings of veggies before each meal.
- Limited fruit intake since it contains a lot of sugar; stick with vegetables instead to get all the essential nutrients you need while staying active.
How Often Should I Do Cardio?
The frequency with which you do cardio exercises will depend on your own personal fitness goals. Generally speaking though, the more time you spend exercising, the better results you’ll see. It all depends on what your objectives are and how much time you have to devote to these activities. If you’re looking for something quick and effective, try doing a 20 minute cardio session at least 3 times per week (7). For those who want to maximize their training efforts, aim for 5-6 sessions weekly – or even every day if possible.
How Can I Get Started?
The first step towards changing your lifestyle is simply getting started. If you’re not used to exercising on a regular basis or have been putting it off for whatever reason, jumping into a cardio routine may seem a bit intimidating. In order to make it easier, try starting with just 20-30 minutes a day and work your way up from there. You can even begin by walking around the block or going for a jog in the mornings before you head off to work; either way, it’s important that you find an activity that you enjoy so you’ll be more likely to stick with it in the long run.
Here are some amazing activities that every beginner should try out:
- Take at least one walk per day – Depending on where you live or what time of year it is, this might not always be possible. However, taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to go for a leisurely stroll is a great way to get your heart rate up without feeling too overwhelmed.
- Start with light jogging – If you’re someone who’s looking to lose weight, jogging is a great way to start out as it’s relatively easy and doesn’t require any special equipment. Just make sure you start off slowly and increase your pace over time.
- Swim – Swimming is one of the best exercises for overall fitness as it works out your entire body. Not only is it fun, but it’s also a great way to cool down during the summer months.
- Take a dance class – If you’re looking for something that’s both fun and challenging, consider taking a dance class. This is a great way to get your heart rate up and work out your body at the same time.
- Any workout is better than no workout – If you’re not sure where to start, don’t be afraid to try something new. Whether it’s a class at a nearby gym or a ten-minute DVD that promises to tone your arms, anything is better than nothing. As long as you move around for at least 20 minutes a few times per week, you can say goodbye to those extra pounds and enjoy increased energy levels while becoming healthier overall.
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The Bottom Line
Cardio is the perfect exercise to guarantee weight loss and many other amazing health benefits. If you want to lose weight, tone up or just stay healthy in general, try adding cardio exercises into your weekly routine.
It’s important that you find activities that you enjoy as this will help motivate you to work out more often. While any workout is better than no workout, try to aim for at least 3 cardio sessions per week for best results. And lastly, always consult with a physician before starting any new exercise routine.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Aerobic exercise alone results in clinically significant weight loss for men and women: Midwest exercise trial (2012, wiley.com)
- Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: a pilot study (n.d., bmj.com)
- Benefits of a Cardio Workout (2020, clevelandclinic.org)
- Brief Vigorous Stair Climbing Effectively Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease: A Randomized Trial (2021, frontiersin.org)
- Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation (2014, nih.gov)
- How much cardio should you do? (2020, harvard.edu)
- Indoor Rowing machines: A Quick & Easy Guide (2013, afpafitness.com)
- Physical Activity Prevents Chronic Disease (2020, cdc.gov)
- Predicting the Metabolic Cost of Incline Walking from Muscle Activity and Walking Mechanics (2015, nih.gov)
- Research into the Health Benefits of Sprint Interval Training Should Focus on Protocols with Fewer and Shorter Sprints (2017, nih.gov)
- Signs of Overtraining (2017, acefitness.org)
- Swimming – health benefits (betterhealth.vic.gov)