Maybe you’re a die-hard runner, or perhaps boxing is your activity of choice. Either way, you’re no stranger to getting your heart pumping and sweat pouring. Cardio exercise can do everything from building endurance to boosting your mood. You might be wondering just how long you should spend on cardio to reap those benefits and achieve your fitness goals.
Whether you’re into the elliptical, swimming, or anything in between, here’s how long you should be spending on cardio (and how different workout lengths can benefit you), according to personal trainers.
What Is Cardio?
While cardio might conjure up the image of a runner hitting the pavement for miles, all sorts of activities fall under the cardio bucket, says Sam Goss, a NASM-certified personal trainer. When you picture cardio, think of any exercise that drives your heart rate up.
” I am a huge advocate of moving your body in whatever capacity you can whenever you can,” says Leigh. “Having a healthy relationship with cardio makes it easier to bust a move on the dance floor, keep up with your kids when they are ready to play, and chase your energetic puppy.”
While cardio has plenty of benefits of its own, it’s best when paired with strength training to keep your muscles spry and strong and power you through your cardio workout safely, according to Goss. “Before you can even begin working on improving your cardio endurance through exercise, you will need enough stabilization in your joints to safely train.
Benefits of Cardio
Getting your heart rate up regularly can benefit everything from endurance to bone health, says Goss. Here are some of the ways cardio can help your body and mind.
It improves heart health: Not only does cardio get your heart pumping, but it can boost your overall heart health, says cure fit personal trainer Cam Countryman. Your heart is like any other muscle in your body. Regular cardio exercise teaches it to work better, which helps keep it healthy and reduces your risk for heart disease.
It boosts endurance: When your heart learns to pump better, it uses oxygen more efficiently, which helps your body sustain hard work over extended periods. “Endurance is built when we push past our current stopping point and allow our bodies to adapt to a new one,” says Goss.
It can strengthen your muscles: Remember how cardio comes in all different forms? You can build muscle while getting your heart rate up with cardio-based strength-training workouts like HIIT, boxing, or yoga sculpt. And teaching your muscles to work against resistance can boost your strength, tone and build muscle endurance.
It builds bone strength: Your muscles are attached to our bones, so when you use your muscles, you’re pulling on your bones, according to Goss. That can help increase your bone density, which means a more robust skeleton.
It reduces stress: If you’ve ever left a sweat session feeling stress-free, there’s a science to back it up: Exercise can release tension, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cardio exercise releases feel-good chemicals into your body that can boost your mood.
How Long Should You Spend on Cardio?
How long you spend on cardio depends on your fitness level, and goals say, Countryman. As a baseline, Leigh recommends doing 30 minutes of cardio about five days a week, or 150 minutes a week total. But exercising for longer or shorter than that may be better for you based on what you’re trying to accomplish.
There’s no one recipe for the perfect cardio workout length, adds Goss. Daily cardio will be based upon the individual’s needs.”
Below, learn how much time spent on cardio might work best for you.
Ten minutes: If you’re new to exercise, recovering from injury, or over the age of 60, 10 minutes of cardio is the perfect point of entry to get your body used to the movement, says Leigh. This can also be a reasonable length of cardio to pair with a strength-training session, so you can get your heart rate up while still having time left over to pump iron. If your goal is to take a break from work or from inside, a 10-minute walk, jog, or other activity can help you clear your mind and loosen up your body. Ensure to check in with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you are recovering from an injury.
Twenty minutes: If 10 minutes feels doable, why not up the ante and make it 20, suggests Goss. That extra 10 minutes of cardio can help your body build endurance but won’t overload your muscles. Or, if you already have solid endurance, 20 minutes is the perfect time to squeeze in a challenging but quick workout, like a HIIT class.
Thirty minutes: Spending half an hour on cardio several times a week is ideal for building endurance, says Goss. This length of time works well for all forms of cardio activity: Take a 30-minute walk to get your blood flowing or try a half-hour virtual fitness class. Either way, it’s a significant length of time to challenge your body without overdoing it, as long as you’ve worked your way up to perform 30 minutes of exercise safely.
Forty-five minutes: If you opt for higher-intensity or higher-impact cardio, like running, then 45 minutes of exercise is best for those who already have a strong background in endurance training, says Countryman. According to Goss, longer cardio workouts like this can help sustain a foundation of good cardio and muscle endurance, but make sure to work your way up to it to avoid overuse or injury. Longer cardio workouts like this are also ideal for the lower-impact activity, like hiking or walking, says Goss. Just make sure that you’re alternating your cardio with cross-training to avoid overdoing it: For example, if you’re a runner, opt for lower-impact activities on your off days to give your joints a rest from pounding the pavement.
An hour: If you’re an athlete or otherwise have a strong background in endurance training, then an hour of cardio may be your sweet spot to maintain and continue to build endurance and strength, says Countryman. Again, remember to balance these long workouts with cross-training to keep your body holistically safe and robust.