If you find yourself taking a break in the middle of a particularly tough workout and wondering, “OK, so how much cardio a week should I do?” you are certainly not alone. This very intense form of exercise is tiring, to say the least. But it’s still worth coming back to it several times a week in order to take advantage of its many benefits.
Cardio is short for “cardiovascular,” which is an umbrella term for any aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate, says Melissa Boyda NASM-certified personal trainer and Tempo coach. The goal of cardio training is to condition your heart and lungs for better endurance, but there are many other benefits as well. Boyd says cardio can boost your mood, improve your skin through increased circulation, helps avoid memory loss and other brain-related health problems, reduce joint pain, improve cholesterol – and also help you feel better overall. “A good workout can give you an endorphin rush and a strong body will also keep you energized throughout the day.”
To land on the perfect cardio workout for you, consider your fitness level, what you enjoy, and what would be easiest to come back to time and time again — it’s not just about running. “If you’re just starting out, try adding a few extra walks a day at a faster pace or enrolling in that dance class you covet,” suggests Boyd.
Other examples of cardio? Jump rope, pedal a stationary bike, row, swim, cycle, dance, and take group fitness classes like kickboxing. And running and walking, of course. As for how much you should make on a weekly basis? Here’s what the experts say.
How much cardio should you do each week?
To get the most benefit from cardio workouts for heart health, it’s recommended to aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, Boyd says. Ideally, you should spread this out over several days, aiming for three to five aerobic training sessions per week. Think of a 30-minute jog on Tuesday, a 60-minute dance class on Thursday, and a 60-minute brisk walk on Saturday, for example.
To tell if your workout falls into the “moderate” or “vigorous” category, look at your heart rate. The easiest way to track it is to wear a smartwatch or heart rate monitor. Consult your doctor for your recommended target heart rate and how long you need to maintain it, especially if you are taking heart medication. “Heart rate zones can vary from person to person, but for most people who are working on general fitness and aren’t too concerned with peak performance, the general areas based on age and biological sex will work fineadds Boyd. The general guidelines according to the American Heart Association are 50-70% of maximum heart rate during moderate exercise and 70-85% for vigorous exercise (subtract your age from 220 for your maximum heart rate).
You can also measure the intensity of your workouts the old-fashioned way using PRE, or your rate of perceived exertion. “This scale places exercise intensity on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very light and 10 being your absolute limit,” Boyd explains. To see where you stand, try carrying on a conversation while exercising. If you’re out of breath but can finish your sentences, your workout is probably moderate. If you’re too breathless to speak, that would be vigorous. “Your 150 minutes should live in the three to five and vigorous in the six to nine,” says Boyd.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind: doing cardio is always better than doing nothing. “Doing what you can with the time you have will still have great health benefits, so don’t let those numbers put you off and focus on building a habit of consistency instead,” Boyd says. “If 30 minutes a day seems like too much, try taking three 10-minute walks a day and push your pace a little more than usual.” Also useful? If you’re new to a fitness regimen, Boyd recommends letting your training level build by slowly adding more intensity — that way you won’t burn out by going too hard too soon.
What about bodybuilding?
For a complete workout routine, Boyd suggests switching between cardio training and strength training throughout the week. “Your schedule and goals will dictate what you can stick to,” she adds. For example, you could do four to five movement days a week, using the other one or two as rest days or active recovery days. Rest and recovery days, BTW, are key because they’ll help you get comfortable with a new fitness routine without stressing you (or your body) to the point of giving up.
According to Boyd, many people choose to do strength training exercises on different days than cardio, but it comes down to personal preference. If you’re going to do both in one workout, doing cardio or weights first each has its unique benefits (doing cardio first means you’ll generally have better endurance, while lifting first means your muscles will not be fatigued by the cardio).
However you stick them together, choose a training modality (or two or three!) that you like, give yourself plenty of time to build up cardio endurance and muscle strength, and you’ll be off to a great start. .
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