How Much Aerobic (Cardio) Exercise Should You Do?

Every home workout program should include some form of regular aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, biking, swimming and circuit training.  Any physical or sporting activity you choose that elevates your heart and breathing rates for an extended period of time will do the trick.


Aerobic ExerciseThere are many health benefits associated with aerobic exercise including: strengthening your heart and lungs, reducing numerous health risks, helping you lose body fat and increasing your energy level – just to name a few.  It’s not a mystery why aerobic exercise is widely considered among health and fitness experts to be the most vital element of a home workout plan.  So how much aerobic activity must you do to reap these benefits?


Let’s See What the Experts Have to Say:

Both the AmericanCollege of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association suggest including at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or a combination of the two).  It can be done in one continuous session or multiple shorter sessions of at least 10 minutes. Both organizations note that these recommendations can be met by doing 30 – 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20 – 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).


As you can see, these are pretty general guidelines.  What do they consider “moderate” or “vigorous” intensity exercise?  Why such a large range in time?  Let’s face it, there’s a big difference between doing 20 minutes of activity and doing 60 minutes.  How do you know if you’re doing enough to meet your goals?  If you’re a little confused, don’t worry – I’m here to help!  First, we need to figure out some things.


What’s the Difference Between Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

Moderate intensity exercise is activity that will increase your heart rate and your breathing rate.  It canAerobic Exercise make you sweat a little, but you still should be able to carry on a conversation.  Examples of moderate intensity level activities include: brisk walking, easy jogging, easy bike riding, leisure swimming, water aerobics, doubles tennis, and light gardening.  These activities should have you at 50% – 70 % of your Maximum Heart Rate.


Note:  Determine your heart rate range by first calculating your Maximum Heart Rate (220 minus your age).  Then simply calculate the different percentages to determine the range.

Example: A healthy 50 year old:  220 – 50 = 170 (Maximum Heart Rate)

170 x .5 (50%) = 85 and 170 x .7 (70%) = 119   Heart Rate Range = 85 – 119 beats per minute – This is the heart rate range for a 50 year old performing moderate exercise.


Vigorous intensity exercise is activity that will substantially increase your heart rate and your breathing rate.  You’ll sweat much more and find it somewhat difficult to speak.  Examples of vigorous intensity level activities include: running, hiking uphill, cycling more than 10mph, fast lap swimming, heavy gardening, singles tennis and sports that require a lot of running such as basketball and soccer.  These activities should have you at 70% – 85 % of your Maximum Heart Rate. (Use the same formula as above, but with the different percentages to calculate heart rate range.)


OK – Now you know the difference between moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise, along with the time recommendations for each.  The next move is to figure out what you need to include in your home workout program.  Should you exercise vigorously for 25 – 30 minutes 3 days per week or moderately for 30 minutes 5 days per week?  How about a combination of both?


Determining How Much Aerobic Exercise is Right for You

The amount of aerobic activity you want to include in your own home workout routine mainly depends on 2 factors:  your current fitness level and your exercise goals.  Let’s take a look at each one and see what you need to consider.


Your Current Fitness Level

Aerobic ExerciseYour current fitness level is the most important (and limiting) factor to consider when planning your aerobic activities.  For instance, if you’ve been inactive for a long period of time, you’ll need to start out slowly with moderate-intensity exercise.  If  you’re very de-conditioned, I suggest starting out with 5 – 10 minutes of activity such as walking, then adding a minute or two each day (or week) until you build up your time to 30 minutes, 5 days per week.  When you’re able to do that, gradually pick up the pace to where you’re walking briskly for 30 minutes each session.


As your fitness level improves (or if you’re already in good condition), I highly recommend including vigorous-intensity exercise if you can.  Stepping things up not only helps you achieve a greater level of conditioning, but can cut your exercise time in half.  Talk about a win – win situation!


Your Exercise Goals

Your exercise goals also influence the amount of aerobic exercise you should do.  Most general exercise goals such as weight loss, increased energy and improved health can be met by following the guidelines above.  But if your goal is to run a marathon or complete a 50 mile bike ride, you’ll definitely need to set aside more time for your workouts. Keep in mind that your body will only adapt to the demands you make on it.  Walking for 30 minutes, 5 days per week obviously isn’t going to cut it if you’re preparing for a long distance run.


My Recommendations:

Aerobic ExerciseIf you’re up to the task, I’m always in favor of doing vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise over moderate-intensity exercise. Higher intensity exercise simply takes less time and provides better conditioning results.  I generally recommend performing vigorous-intensity exercise for 25 minutes, 3 days per week.  But even if you’re capable of exercising at this higher level, feel free to mix in some additional moderate-intensity exercise, like a nice leisurely walk with the family or dog (or both) – it’s good for everybody!


However, if you’re just starting out and not in very good condition, vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise is not for you.  You’ll need to start out slower with moderate-intensity activities.  I suggest performing moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes, 5 days per week.  In some cases, you may need to gradually build up to this.  If so, start out with 5 – 10 minutes of activity such as walking, and add a minute or two each day (or week).                          


In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve suggested doing the minimum recommended time for both types of exercise intensities.  My reasons for this are pretty simple.  First, 25 – 30 minutes (per workout) of aerobic exercise has been proven to be a sufficient amount to attain most exercise goals.  Second, most people find it much easier to block off 25 – 30 minutes from their busy schedules than they do 45 – 60 minutes.  Remember – It’s always better to do shorter workouts that actually get done than longer ones that don’t.


Final note – Be sure to stay in tune with your body and know what your limitations are.  If your head is saying “run” and your knees are telling you to walk that day – do yourself a favor and listen to your knees.  But if you’re feeling good, by all means go for it!


I hope that helps,


Share With Friends: Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

2 Responses to How Much Aerobic (Cardio) Exercise Should You Do?

  1. Kate Rainey May 24, 2013 at 6:33 PM #

    Hi Paul –

    Fabulous ideas to include with working out.

    Thank you for writing this article. Will pass on.


    • Paul
      Paul May 25, 2013 at 2:35 PM #

      Thanks Kate – I’m glad you liked it & I appreciate you passing it on.


Leave a Reply