Cardiovascular workouts are the key to a healthy heart and weight loss, among other things. There are many conflicting reports as to how often you should do cardio exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine is an authoritative resource for exercise research and exercise guidelines, so by following the ACSM guidelines for cardiovascular exercise, you will ensure that you are doing cardio exercise often enough.
Beginners to Cardio
If you are just beginning your exercise routine, talk to your doctor first. Once you get clearance, you can follow the ACSM’s beginning cardio exercise recommendation of five days per week of exercise. The ACSM recommends that you begin with 30 minutes five days of the week. If 30 minutes straight is too difficult, you can break it down into shorter bouts. For example, you can do three 10-minute intervals to reach the 30-minute guideline. Keep your intensity to a light to moderate level – you should be able to maintain a conversation while exercising.
If you have already been exercising, you should still exercise five days per week, but focus on increasing your time up to 60 minutes per day. Do not immediately increase to an hour, though, you must progress properly. Increase your exercise duration by a maximum of 10 percent from week to week. For instance, if you are working out for 40 minutes currently, next week exercise for 44 minutes, adding 10 percent of the 40 minutes from the previous week. Once you reach 60 minutes on five days of the week, you can progress to the advanced level.
If you are already an experienced exerciser, you can utilize the ACSM’s recommendations for vigorous exercise. Start with three days per week of 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous exercise, vigorous meaning that you are breathing heavily and cannot easily hold a conversation. After establishing a routine of three vigorous exercise days per week for a month, you can safely progress to four days. After another month, you can progress to five days per week of vigorous exercise. Still follow the 10 percent increase rule described above.
Types of Cardiovascular Exercise
Depending on your level, you may want to choose a specific type of exercise over another. For beginners, start off on a stationary bicycle or an elliptical machine, as these machines are low impact and are not likely to cause injuries. Intermediate exercisers can stick with the bike or elliptical, or progress to jogging. Advanced exercisers have prepared their bodies and are free to do almost any form of cardio exercise, including running, swimming and stair climbing.
- ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Fifth Edition; Leonard A. Kaminsky
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise
Scotty Brunning is a Chicago-based health and fitness writer. Having worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cooper Fitness Center in Dallas, he has a plethora of fitness experience. He is an ACSM-certified health fitness specialist and a Cooper Institute master fitness specialist. Brunning holds a master's degree in health and fitness.