If an extra 30 pounds is keeping you out of your favorite bikini or cocktail dress, cardio can help you shed the weight pronto. However, exercise can't do all of the work -- you'll also need to make dietary changes. To qualify as cardio, an activity must use a major muscle group, like your legs, and raise your heart and breathing rates for at least 10 minutes.
Cardio and Calories
One pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories, so you need to burn roughly 105,000 more calories than you eat to drop 30 pounds. Given these facts, it could take well over a year to reach your goal if you count on cardio alone. Walking at 3.5 mph, a 160-pound woman burns about 314 calories per hour -- so you'd drop 30 pounds in about 334, hour-long sessions. Running is better, burning 860 calories per hour at 8 mph at the same weight, but it would still take around 122 sessions to lose the fat.
Don't be intimidated by the numbers -- just think of cardio as a tool to ramp up your weight-loss strategy rather than a complete weight-loss solution. Weight control will come more easily if you engage in 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio, or 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity cardio, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Moderate cardio options include walking quickly, swimming and using a heavy push mower. Vigorous options include running and taking an aerobic dance class.
A smart eating strategy is your key to rapid weight loss, as it's much easier to build a calorie deficit by consuming less food than by burning off the energy. You don't necessarily need a strict diet plan as long as you stick to certain guidelines. HelpGuide.org recommends eating only when you're hungry rather than turning to food to relieve stress, and advises turning off the TV or computer while you eat so you can focus on your food. Eat off a smaller plate to control portion sizes, and chew slowly to allow fullness signals to reach your brain before you stuff yourself silly.
Don't dive headlong into an intense cardio routine in hopes of losing weight more rapidly -- you could injure muscles and set yourself up for frustration. Instead, start with moderate activity and slowly incorporate more vigorous intervals into your routine. Wear shoes that were made for your type of exercise, along with nonconstricting clothes. Warm up and cool down for five to 10 minutes, and drink plenty of water as you exercise. If you don't currently exercise, see your doctor before starting a new routine.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.