By E.C. LaMeaux
Cardiovascular exercise is an excellent way to prevent heart disease and obesity — but how long are you supposed to exercise? The answer depends on your goals and current level of fitness. Consistently exercising for a specific duration of time and then building on that will enable you to increase your speed and intensity in the long run. Every cardio workout should begin with a three-to-five minute warm up of low intensity cardio and finish with a three-to-five minute cool-down, where you bring your heart rate back down to normal.
If you’re out of shape, overweight, or have never tried cardiovascular exercise before, start out doing 10 to 20 minutes four or five days a week. The speed is not important in the beginning: The goal is just to increase your heart rate consistently. Any amount of regular exercise will begin to positively affect your metabolism and the body’s ability to process blood sugar.
Sometimes weight loss, rather than heart health, is the main goal of cardiovascular exercise. If that is your goal, be sure to exercise for at least 15 minutes. That is the average time it takes for the body to use up your sugar reserves and start burning fat. Running burns about 100 calories per mile, walking burns half that. There are roughly 3,500 calories in one pound of fat, so it is possible to tailor a cardio program around your specific weekly weight loss goals.
Some people are worried about losing muscle from exercising too much. According to Matricia Heaner, M.A., M.Ed, exercise physiologist, personal trainer and nutritionist, the vast majority of people don’t need to worry since the body doesn’t start to burn amino acids (proteins that sometimes come from muscles) until the end of an extreme endurance event, like a marathon.
Recommended cardio length
For a person who is not obese nor very out of shape, the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines call for a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity performed at moderate intensity (60-80 percent maximum heart rate) either in one continuous period or in intervals of at least 20-minute durations on most days of the week. To burn fat and/or lose weight, you should increase the length of your cardio workout.
What you eat will affect how long you can and should do cardiovascular exercise. A calorie-deficient, low-carbohydrate diet will make running for any length of time difficult. Eating a balanced diet that is high in healthy carbs, like those found in whole grains, will allow you to work out for your full goal time. Avoid saturated fats and processed sugars that give you very short bursts of energy followed by exhausting crashes.