When you hear the word cardio, do you think of sweat dripping off your forehead while running on the treadmill or taking a brisk walk on your lunch break? It’s both. Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, means that you’re doing an activity “with oxygen.”

This type of exercise:

  • uses large muscle groups, such as your legs or upper body
  • requires respiration or controlled breathing
  • increases your heart rate and keeps it in an aerobic zone for a set amount of time

Common forms of cardio include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, and fitness classes. Cardio machines may include a rower, elliptical, stair climber, upright or recumbent bike, and treadmill.

While cardio does burn calories and helps aid in weight loss, combining it with at least two to three days a week of strength training workouts can increase the rate at which you lose weight.

The amount of cardio you need to lose weight depends on various factors like your current weight, diet, daily activity level, and age.

To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit. The number of calories you consume needs to be less than the amount of calories you burn. How much weight you lose depends on the amount of exercise you’re willing to perform over the course of a week.

If you’re not sure how to create a deficit or you need help meeting your goals, consider using a calorie counting app. These trackers allow you to input your daily food intake and physical activity throughout the day, which enables you to check your current calories in/calories out equation.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you should get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week to see substantial changes.

You should also perform strength-training activities that involve all major muscle groups at least two days each week.

If you want to lose one pound each week, you need to create a 3,500-calorie deficit, which means you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you consume in one week.

Before you embark on a weight loss journey using cardio exercise, it’s important to understand that there are certain factors that affect how quickly you burn calories, and consequently, how fast you lose weight.

  • Age. The older you are, the fewer calories you can expect to burn.
  • Body composition. If you have a greater amount of muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories during exercise than someone who has a higher percentage of fat.
  • Intensity of workout. The more vigorous the workout, the more calories you’ll burn in one session.
  • Gender. Men burn calories faster than women.
  • Overall daily activity. The more sedentary you are during the day, the fewer overall calories you’ll burn.
  • Weight. The greater your weight, the more calories you’ll burn.

To maximize your time spent exercising, consider choosing physical activities that burn the most amount of calories in the least amount of time. This typically involves using the large muscles of your lower body at a moderate or vigorous intensity.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 154-pound person can burn anywhere between 140 and 295 calories in 30 minutes doing cardiovascular exercise. Here are some different methods of cardio and the number of calories you can burn in 30 minutes:

  • hiking: 185 calories
  • dancing: 165 calories
  • walking (3.5 mph): 140 calories
  • running (5 mph): 295 calories
  • bicycling (>10 mph): 295 calories
  • swimming: 255 calories

To lose one pound, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than what your body needs. If your goal is to lose one to two pounds a week, you need a deficit of 1,000 calories per day.

Let’s say your daily caloric requirement is 2,200 calories. You’ll need to reduce the number of calories you consume per day by 500 and burn 500 calories through exercise.

With that in mind, you’ll want to create a workout plan that includes cardiovascular exercise most days of the week and strength training at least two days a week.

  • Cardiovascular exercise. Perform cardio exercise three to five days a week for 30 to 60 minutes each session.
  • Strength training. Perform two to three days a week of strength training exercises that involve all major muscle groups.
  • Flexibility and stretching. Include daily stretching and flexibility exercises.
  • Rest. Include at least one to two days of rest each week. You can participate in active recovery exercises such as yoga or light stretching on your rest days.

Performing the same workout every day leads to a plateau, a point at which the exercise loses effectiveness. Alternatively, hitting it too hard can lead to burnout. That’s why it’s important to stagger your workouts. To do this, make sure to include both moderate-intensity and high-intensity cardiovascular exercise in your overall fitness routine.

For example, perform 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise, such as walking or swimming, three days a week. Up the intensity for the other two days — five days total — and perform vigorous workouts such as running or cycling.

If you choose to do high-intensity-interval training, you can reduce the total amount of time. For example, do sprints alternating with jogging intervals on the treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes.

Your body uses different muscle groups for each type of workout. It makes sense to include a variety of exercises in your overall fitness routine. Combining cardiovascular exercise and weight training makes the most sense for maximum weight loss.

To do this, consider performing cardio exercise most days of the week and strength training exercise at least two days each week. For your cardio, include at least two to three different methods of aerobic exercise. For example, run one day, swim another day, cycle the next day, and choose two different fitness classes to do for the other two days.

For extra benefits, consider taking a fitness class that also includes strength training, which will increase the number of calories you burn during the activity and after your workout.

In addition to physical activity, losing weight also requires changing your diet. To create a calorie deficit through diet and still feel satisfied, make sure to include plenty of complex carbohydrates, adequate amounts of protein, and healthy fats.