Whether you love it, hate it, or tolerate it, cardiovascular exercise is an essential aspect of any exercise program and overall health.
For example, when done consistently over time, running, has been shown to improve your quality of sleep, benefit brain health, stabilize blood sugar, and strengthen your knees.
Being aware of how much cardio you need, both as a beginner and to advance, can boost your chances of sticking to a cardio routine long term and reaping the health benefits that come with it.
Insider spoke to personal trainer and fitness research director for RunRepeat, Nicholas Rizzo, about how often you should do cardio, from beginners to more advanced, as well as the benefits gained from regular cardio exercise.
How often should you do cardio
It doesn’t take much to gain the benefits from cardio. For example, even just ten minutes of running per week may provide a mood boost. But, to meet the recommended amount of weekly exercise, you’ll need more than just 10 minutes of running per week.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recommends that adults get 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderately-intensive activity each week. For beginners, it might be best to do this activity in short bursts. In fact, the DHHS says that adding more than 300 minutes of activity to your week can result in greater benefits for your brain, cancer prevention, and heart health. But first, you need to build the habit.
“Start by committing to 10 minutes of brisk walking daily. It’s simple, but the hardest part is just doing it consistently,” says Rizzo. “As you get comfortable, start increasing the total minutes of brisk walking weekly by 5-10 minutes.”
If you don’t like walking or running, “consider other options like rowing machines, cycling, swimming, calisthenics, and plyometrics. For less traditional forms of cardio, try using weighted push/pull sleds, tire flips, heavy farmers walks, weighted lunges for distance, or battle ropes,” says Rizzo. The most important thing is to find a cardio activity you enjoy.
Once you’ve built up to about 25 minutes of fast-paced walking, or other activity, per day, you’ve reached the minimum recommendation. Then, once you’ve built the habit and you’re consistently exercising, you can then take steps to progress even farther.
How to progress your cardio workouts
“When you are getting a consistent 30 minutes of solid walking in a day, that is a great base to take it to the next level with one day for more intense cardio like sprint interval training,” says Rizzo.
One way to step up your workouts is to start by measuring them with a 1-10 difficulty scale. One being very light intensity — like a 2-3 mph walk — and 10 being extremely intense — like a full out sprint.
When you’re ready to step it up, start by increasing the intensity by 10 percent per week, or one notch on the difficulty scale. For example, once you can sustain a cardio workout that’s at a 3-4 difficulty level — you should still be able to talk without too much difficulty — for 30 minutes at a time, then try adding high-intensity intervals.
These short, high-intensity intervals, should be at around a 5 on the difficulty scale and last for up to 60 seconds at a time. Follow those up with a recovery phase of lower-intensity intervals that last about 3 minutes. After you can complete 4-5 of these intervals at a time, you can start to focus on shortening the recovery phase to 60 seconds, so your recovery phase is as long as your high-intensity phase.
After that, you can start to increase the intensity from a 5 to 6 and beyond. But if you are feeling overly fatigued, moody, have trouble sleeping, are agitated, have become injury prone, or experience a loss of appetite, you could be overtraining. In this case, back off and rest. Listen to your body, and make sure to take recovery days.
If running is your cardio of choice, some additional precautions to take as you progress are:
– Be cautious of shin splints.
– Take some time to make sure you are wearing the right shoes for your running style and feet.
– Start doing preventative exercises ahead of time to help prevent shin splints.
– Include some additional mobility and recovery exercises such as walking and gentle cycling throughout the week.