How Much Cardio Should I Do?

What about of cardio activity each week is recommended and will make an impact on my health?



2/6/20223 min read

This isnt the easiest question to answer for most people, but there is an answer you can use as a baseline.

The National recommendation for physical activity for healthy Americans is 150 minutes a week.

That equals 30 minutes, 5 days a week.

So let that sink in a little bit. For me, that's about half of what I get. I always walk for an hour, 5 days per week.

For many of you, that number may seem absolutely absurd. Maybe you get hours every day for your job. Maybe you're training for a marathon in the spring and 150 minutes would never get you ready.

Or you're lucky if you get 30.

So remember, this is what is recommended for the non-athlete's human body. Less than this, especially by a lot, can lead to some sort of deterioration over time, and contributes toward chronic illness.

Anyhow, that's information for another article.

So what constitutes physical activity?

This is the part that isn't defined as well. And it's possibly the reason why Americans still struggle with moving enough. For the most part, it's any activity that raises your heart rate.

But getting up and walking to the fridge raises your heart rate from its resting point, right?

The World Health Organization defines it as "bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure."

That's even more vague! Then people can argue that playing video games and scrolling on your phone is physical activity because you're moving your fingers. So you must be burning some calories to move your thumbs, right?

Ouch. I think this should be better defined.

As a health coach, if I were called upon to create a definition for physical activity, it would be any activity requiring movement that elevates the heart rate at least 25bpm. Maybe more. I'd have to do a study.

The point is, for it to actually count, you have to push yourself.

For example, I'm drafting this while on the treadmill. 2.3mph (I'm short, this is a good number for a medium-paced walk for me) at a 2.5% grade. My resting heart rate is at about 61bpm and right now my heart rate is 107bpm. I raised it by 46 and I'm not even power-walking. So 25 is definitely light for me, but may not be for all populations. Just to give you an idea.

I guess the biggest debate is whether or not working a job on your feet all day counts.

I think to a certain extent it does, and likely you're in much better shape than a desk worker who doesnt work out. But the body adapts to what it does all the time. After a few weeks of working on your feet, as long as your shoes are doing what they need to, you're used to it. You might be tired at the end of the day, but during the day, you're used to it.

Your heart rate will be raised, but you're no longer pushing yourself. And that is what contributes to your muscles, your heart, your respiratory system to gain health advantages from it.

Has your breathing rate increased during your workday? If yes, then I would say you can count that time as physical activity time. If not, then I struggle to honestly call it that.

So perhaps the answer to this question is that in order to be sure that it is actual physical that benefits you, push yourself to the point your breathing wants to speed up, or that it does.

Final question: should one dive right into 150 minutes each week?

No. Unless you can break it up into a couple 15 minute dog walks a day, then start slow. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes at first, maybe 3 days a week. It depends on what you can handle.

Figure out a baseline and then add ten minutes each week somewhere. Either add a day, or make a walk longer, something.

Week by week, add more. You'll get there eventually.

And if you get to 150 and you are enjoying yourself to want more, then by all means, add more. Consider it a bonus

How does this resonate with you? Despite the vagueness out there, does this seem to describe it a little better?