Doing tons of cardiovascular exercise has long been believed to be the secret to losing fat and achieving the perfect physique. But what is cardio, really? Cardiovascular exercises are endurance exercises that strengthen the cardiovascular system (the heart and blood vessels). They are done for longer stretches of time which makes the heart beat faster and pump more blood through your system to distribute nutrients and oxygen to your cells. If your heart rate is increased to 50-80% of its maximum (220-your age) and you are doing it for at least 20 minutes, it is cardio. It can be running, tennis, skipping, swimming or cycling, just as long as it gets your heart rate into a cardiovascular zone.
To stay fit and keep your heart in good shape you should definitely incorporate regular cardio into your workout regiment. But are hours upon hours of cardio necessary to lose weight?
Even bodybuilders who aim for single digit body fat don’t do cardio for hours. Look at the bigger picture – your shape is conditioned by your diet and training. Your training consists (or should consist) of endurance (cardio) and resistance training (casually referred to as strength training). If you have a good nutrition plan and you follow a muscle building program (muscle, which will help you reduce fat and burn more calories), you only need minimal cardio.
It will also hugely depend on your lifestyle – if you have a sedentary job, do slightly more cardio. If you are on your feet all day – you can get away with less.
The one and only way to lose fat is a calorie deficit through either diet or exercise – preferably both. The healthiest way to lose is to combine a balanced diet, cardio and resistance training. Lifting weights is important since it helps build muscle mass which increases your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This means that the more muscle you have the more calories you will burn just ‘living’ and performing everyday tasks. You can create a calorie deficit by dieting and lifting but we certainly recommend adding cardio for improved effects and cardiovascular health! But remember – if you follow the myth that starvation diets plus cardio will make you slim – you will fail and quite possibly harm your health. Why? Caloric deficit combined with strenuous cardio will put you in a catabolic state – your body will start eating away at itself. Your muscle will start wasting away and while you may think you’re losing pounds – it will not benefit you in the long run.
Ok, but how much cardio should I be doing? There is no magic number. Start easy and tweak your routine as you go along. You could start with 30 minutes 3 times a week. See how your body responds and take it from there. Again, this is just an example, everyone is different. For an obese person 10 minutes of walking daily may be a good start.
To summarize, the best and healthiest approach to weight loss is balance. A healthy diet with a moderate amount of cardio, interval and resistance training will enable you to see results and the variety will keep you on your toes, too!