How Often Should I Do Cardio To Reach My Fitness Goals?

There is plenty of research supporting the fact that regularly performing cardio exercise can reduce your risk of certain diseases such as heart disease and stroke, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

But, you may ask yourself, how often should I do cardio?

Should you do cardio every day? Is doing cardio once or twice a week enough?

In this article, we will discuss how often you should do cardio based on your health and fitness goals.

We will cover: 

  • How Often Should You Do Cardio?
  • So, How Often Should I Do Cardio?

Let’s dive in! 

People in a Zumba class.

How Often Should You Do Cardio?

How often you should do cardio depends on several factors, primarily your fitness and health goals, the duration of your cardio workouts, and the intensity of your cardio workouts.

Let’s take a look at each one of these factors in detail:

#1: Your Health and Fitness Goals

Your health and fitness goals can have a significant impact on the ideal frequency for cardio workouts in your weekly fitness routine.

Improve Your Health

If your goal is to do enough cardio to improve your health and reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers, it makes sense to follow the physical activity guidelines for adults.

The guidelines for physical activity for adults set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week.

This can be divvied up in any number of ways, but common ways that people divide their cardio workouts in accordance with these guidelines is to do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio five days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise three days a week.

People on cardio machines.

You can also do a hybrid of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise to meet the guidelines. 

For example, you can perform 100 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which is two-thirds of the recommended level, and 25 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, which is one-third of the physical activity guidelines.

This might look like two 50-minute moderate-intensity workouts per week and one 25-minute vigorous-intensity workout per week or three 35-minute moderate-intensity workouts per week and one 25-minute vigorous-intensity workout per week.

Ultimately, how often you do cardio exercise for your health depends on how long your workouts are and how intense they are. The lower the intensity, the longer or more frequently you will need to work out to accumulate the requisite 150 weekly minutes of aerobic exercise.

If you prefer shorter workouts, you will have to do cardio most days of the week, particularly if you are only exerting yourself equivalent to the level of moderate-intensity exercise.

However, it is best to have at least one full rest day per week to allow your body complete recovery. Unless you are a competitive athlete, you should do no more than six days of cardio exercise per week. 

If you are only performing moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, this means that in order to meet the physical activity guidelines to promote optimal health, you will have to average 25 minutes of cardio exercise six days a week, 30 minutes of cardio exercise five days a week, nearly 40 minutes of cardio exercise three days a week, or 75 minutes twice a week.

A person running stairs.

If you choose to do only vigorous-intensity cardio exercise, you can do a quick 15-minute high-intensity workout five days a week, close to a 20-minute cardio workout four days a week, a 25-minute cardio workout three days a week, or roughly a 40-minute cardio workout twice a week.

Just as it is best to take at least one full rest day per week, it is typically best to spread out your cardio exercise into at least two different days per week rather than just doing one very long workout once each week. 

This will help provide a more frequent stimulus to the body to trigger positive aerobic physiological adaptations to your workout. 

However, if you only have time to do cardio once a week, that is still certainly better than nothing, and you should aim to come as close as possible to satisfying the physical activity minimums.

All of these aforementioned recommendations for how often you should do cardio exercise have pertained to the goal of exercising to improve health and reduce the risk of disease. However, there are other health and fitness goals that can alter how often you should do cardio to best achieve your goals.

A person on an exercise machine.

Weight Loss

For example, if your goal is weight loss, you might want to do more aerobic exercise per week than simply satisfying the physical activity guidelines for health and disease prevention.

Although there are no “rules“ or even guidelines for how much cardio exercise you should do to lose weight, The more physical activity you do, the more calories you will burn and the easier it will be to generate a caloric deficit necessary for weight loss.

Many people looking to lose weight by exercising aim to work out 5 to 6 days per week for 45 to 60 minutes per workout, depending on their fitness level, type of exercise, weight loss goal, diet, and intensity of the workout.

Improve Athletic Performance

Finally, if your goal is to improve athletic performance in an endurance sport, such as running, cycling, or triathlon, it usually makes sense to do cardio exercise more frequently throughout the week, as aerobic exercise will be the “bread-and-butter” of your training.

For example, if you are training for a half marathon or a marathon, it usually makes sense to run at least five days a week, if not six, again respecting your body’s needs for a full rest day per week.

A person running.

With that said, it is possible to train for long-distance races by running just three or four days per week, but oftentimes, 3-day marathon training plans incorporate at least one or two days of cross-training workouts per week. 

Because these cross-training workouts are designed to be aerobic exercise, you are still looking at doing at least 4 to 5 days of cardio exercise per week.

#2: Workout Intensity

As just discussed in detail, the intensity of your cardio workouts affects how often you should do cardio exercise.

The rather nebulous terms “moderate-intensity aerobic exercise“ and “vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise“ were extensively referenced, but what exactly does this mean?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your target heart rate should be between 64-76% of your maximum heart rate for moderate-intensity physical activity, while your target heart rate should be between 77-93% of your maximum heart rate for vigorous-intensity physical activity.

Therefore, the best way to assess the intensity of your cardio workout is to wear a heart rate monitor so that you can see how your workout intensity corresponds to the relative percentage of your maximum heart rate.

People running in a group.

One additional important consideration is that if you are performing high-intensity, vigorous cardio exercise, your body will need additional recovery time after your workout.

It is often ideal to separate vigorous cardio workouts by at least a full day, either taking a complete rest day in between these high-intensity efforts or performing a lower-intensity workout on alternate days.

However, this will depend on your fitness levels, the duration of your workouts, and the type of exercise you are performing.

For example, if you are an experienced athlete, performing vigorous cardio workouts on back-to back-days may not be problematic, whereas beginners should be sure to give their bodies ample recovery time between near-maximal efforts.

With that said, too much intensity with too little rest can lead to non-functional overreaching and overtraining syndrome.

Additionally, the frequency of high-impact, high-intensity cardio workouts like running and jump roping should usually be lower unless you have been training for years and your body has adapted to the stresses of your activity.

A person walking. How often should I do cardio?

#3: Workout Duration

Again, as discussed, the length of your workouts will affect how often you should do cardio exercise. 

The longer your workouts, the less often you will need to work out if you are just trying to satisfy the physical activity guidelines for adults.

So, How Often Should I Do Cardio?

As can be seen, how often you should do cardio exercise depends on several key factors, namely your health and fitness goals and the duration and intensity of your cardio workouts.

Depending on your schedule and how you like to structure your week, you might find that you prefer doing longer, more intense cardio 2 to 3 days per week, or you might like to spread out your cardio workouts over 5 to 6 days per week.

For a variety of different cardio exercises that you can try out and will surely enjoy, take a look at some of our cardio guides:

7 High-Powered Cardio Workouts At Home That You Can Do Today

5 Low Impact Cardio Workouts To Try

Alternatives to Running: 16 Fun Cardio Ideas To Replace Running

A person mountain biking.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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