A well-rounded fitness routine should incorporate all the foundations of exercise, including strength, balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular exercise.
The type of exercise—as well the intensity, frequency, and duration—varies depending on your health goals, such as losing weight or building muscle.
For weight loss, focus more on burning calories through cardio.
To build muscle mass (or reduce muscle loss that accompanies aging), focus more on strength training.
If you embrace a healthy lifestyle, that means you probably eat a nutritious diet, get enough sleep, avoid smoking, limit alcohol, manage stress, and engage in plenty of physical activity.
In particular, for a well-rounded fitness routine, you should touch on all the foundations of exercise, including strength, balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular exercise. Also called aerobic exercise, a cardio workout is any activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time.
But it can be hard to tell how much cardio to incorporate into your workout routine—and what kinds of activities “count” as cardio exercise. Whether you’re a pro athlete who does intense training or just someone who does moderate exercise to stay healthy, how often should you do cardio?
Read more to learn about different kinds of aerobic activity you can do as well as how often you should do cardio for overall health.
19 Different Forms of Cardio
You might think of a cardio session as a one-hour step aerobics class a few times a week or a daily morning jog. While that’s true, many different types of physical activity are actually considered cardio exercise.
For example, besides running, you might enjoy cycling, swimming, dancing, jumping rope, or even doing burpees or HIIT workout (a.k.a. High Intensity Interval Training). But you might be surprised to learn that some everyday activities (like gardening and household chores) are also considered cardiovascular exercise.
Different types of cardio are categories as either moderate intensity activity or vigorous intensity activity, depending on how the physical activity affects your breathing and heart rate. If you can talk but not sing while performing this activity, then you’re doing moderate-intensity cardio. If you’re not able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath, then you’re doing vigorous-intensity cardio. Below are different forms of cardo exercise: [1,2]
Moderate Intensity Cardio:
Brisk walking (3-4 mph)
Heavy cleaning (mopping, vacuuming, washing windows)
Bicycling (10-12 mph)
General gardening, mowing lawn
Vigorous Intensity Cardio:
Race walking, jogging, or running
Bicycling (14 mph or faster)
Carrying heavy loads
Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
What is Your Goal?
Determining how often you should work out really depends on your health goals. Is your goal focused on losing weight, building muscle, or maintaining overall health? Depending on your goal, the type and intensity of exercises you do (as well as how often you do them) can vary.
In addition, factor in your lifestyle, with realistic expectations about the types of activities you enjoy, which ones you’re capable of doing, and how much time you have to exercise.
How often should you do cardio? In general, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 2.5 hours (or 150 minutes) of heart-pumping physical activity every week.  These recommendations are based on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. This translates to about 30 minutes of cardo exercise 5 to 7 days every week.
To maintain overall health, you’ll want a mix of activities that includes flexibility, balance, cardio, and strength training. Cardio, in particular, will help support heart health, while other types of exercise will help support healthy muscles and joints.
Weight Loss & Weight Management
For weight loss, you’ll want to focus more on burning calories through cardio. However, building muscle (see next section) may help increase your metabolism, so you are burning more calories even at rest. Reducing calories combined with exercise will help lead to weight loss.
Build Muscle or Reduce Muscle Loss
To build muscle mass, you’ll want to focus more on strength training exercises. If you’re an older adults, you might also be looking to reduce muscle loss that typically comes with aging. Cardio can help you build and maintain that muscle mass.
Cardio to Maintain Health
If your goal is to maintain overall health, how often should you do cardio? Plan on doing some sort of physical activity you enjoy three to six days a week. In general, combining a mix of both cardio and strength training is a solid fitness approach if you’re looking to maintain health. Additionally you can help maintain your flexibility with stretching or yoga. If you work out six days a week, you could stretch daily and focus half of the days on cardio exercise and the other half on strength training.
But don’t forget that it’s also important to do activities that improve your balance and flexibility, too. This can be especially important as you age and face a greater risk of falling. Incorporate regular stretching or yoga into your workout routine to maintain good health from head to toe.
Cardio for Weight Loss & Weight Management
For healthy weight loss, you’ll need to burn more calories than you take in. That means you’ll want to combine both exercise and and a healthy diet that may include reduced calories. To lose weight and keep it off, the general recommendation is to aim to lose one to two pounds a week. 
For the exercise portion, ease into it. How often should you do cardio? Start with two days of cardio (to burn fat) engaging in moderate aerobic activity. Once you’re comfortable with the type, intensity, and duration of cardio exercise, then consider working out more often (perhaps three to four times a week) and/or engaging in high-intensity cardio.
And you don’t need excessive cardio to shed pounds. Instead, consider adding in two to three days of strength training (to build muscles). By lifting weights, this increases they body’s lean muscle mass. In turn, this boosts your metabolism, allowing your body to burn calories at an increased rate. Build a rest day in between workouts to let your body recover.
Long-term, sustainable weight loss (called weight management) focuses on adopting healthy lifestyle habits. You’ll want to continue eating a healthy, balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. You’ll also want to continue doing a variety of exercises to maintain muscle tissue, increase strength, improve balance, and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for three or four workout sessions every week, incorporating this into your weekly schedule so it “sticks” as a sustainable, healthy habit.
Cardio to Build Muscle & Maintain Muscle Mass
When you’re trying to lose weight, you should prioritize cardio; but when you’re trying to build muscle, you should prioritize strength training.
Prioritize time on strength training
To maximize muscle growth, you should aim for at least three to four days a week of resistance training such as weightlifting. Depending on your fitness level, these strength-training sessions can range from full-body workouts to working out different body parts (arms one day, legs another) to upper/lower body training. In general, you should prioritize your strength training first.
But just because you’re trying to sculpt muscle doesn’t mean you should abandon aerobic activity. To maintain heart health, you still need to engage in cardio sessions. How often should you do cardio when you’re trying to build muscle? Aim for two or three times a week for general conditioning and endurance. You might consider doing low impact/moderately intense activities (like walking or cutting the grass) that still get your heart pumping or more high intense cardio (like HIIT or swimming) for shorter periods.
Don’t forget that dietary supplements can help support your health, too, enabling you to engage in the activities you want to. For instance, magnesium helps support muscle health and regulate muscle function.†
A healthy lifestyle incorporates eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol, managing stress, and engaging in plenty of physical activity. In particular, how often should you do cardio? Determining how often to work out (and what kind of exercise you should do) depends on your health goals. Is your goal focused on losing weight, building muscle, or maintaining overall health? Depending on your health goal, the type, frequency, and intensity of exercises you do can vary.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.
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