Is Cardio Really Necessary for Low Body Fat?

Cardio helps burn fat, but you don't need cardio for fat loss.
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Ah, cardio -- the form of exercise that seemingly everyone loves to hate. From bodybuilders to weekend warriors, even those who dedicate hours to other forms of athletics consider cardio to be a necessary evil, with an emphasis on the "evil." Among the typical justifications for cardio is that it helps burn fat. But what many people do not realize is that though cardio can assist in fat burning, it is not the only way to burn fat.

How You Burn Fat

When it comes to nutrition and weight loss, perhaps no topic is more confusing than fat. Many misconceptions abound, due in part to the fact that the word fat is used to refer to both excess stored energy that can be detrimental to health and a calorie-dense nutrient that is essential for health. Burning fat doesn't mean burning the nutrient that you consume in some foods. To burn fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume. This puts you into a calorie deficit, which prompts your body to start burning energy your body has stored: fat tissue. To burn 1 pound of that stored fat, you need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories. Doing so gradually makes fat burning more manageable: A pace of 1 pound of fat lost per week would require a deficit of just 500 calories per day.

How Cardio Helps

The fact that cardio isn't required for fat loss does not mean that the exercise is unhelpful. Quite the contrary: Many types of cardio can help you achieve low body fat levels quickly, because they burn calories efficiently. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you'll burn 548 calories during an hour of rollerblading or 861 calories per hour of running at an 8-mph pace. Such activities help you achieve the calorie deficit required for fat burning.

Non-Cardio Fat Burning

The secret to low body fat levels is burning enough calories to tap into stored body fat. While you can do that with cardio, you can also burn a significant amount of calories with resistance training. Lifting weights can help you burn 365 calories per hour, and it also helps you build muscle. Muscle tissue increases your metabolism, so you burn more calories even at rest. Weight training also promotes a phenomenon known as "excess postexercise oxygen consumption," which promotes increased calorie burning for hours after the completion of your workout. In this way, resistance training offers a number of avenues for achieving low body fat levels.

Other Cardio Benefits

Cardio isn't just about burning calories and achieving a low body fat level. As painful as you may find this type of exercise, it promotes a number of other health benefits as well. Regular cardiovascular exercise can help you feel more energized, lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of high blood pressure, help you sleep better and enhance your mood. Additionally, improving your cardiovascular capacity can help you improve sports performance.

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