You may have heard that when it comes to strength training, you should rest for a day or two in between workouts to give your muscles a chance to recover.
But what about cardiovascular exercise? Do you need rest days? After all, cardio exercise helps:
- improve your heart and lung function
- strengthen your muscles
- improve your blood flow
- boost your mood
- improve your sleep
- lower your risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the recommended amount of cardio exercise, the pros and cons of doing cardio every day, and the best strategy for losing weight with this type of exercise.
With aerobic or cardio exercise, your muscles need more blood and oxygen than when they’re at rest. This causes your heart and lungs to work harder, which, over time, can make these parts of your body stronger.
And, as your heart and lungs become stronger, the flow of blood and oxygen in your body will also improve.
Cardio or aerobic exercise encompasses many types of activities. Some activities like walking can be done at a moderate pace. Other activities, like running, biking uphill, jumping rope, or swimming laps can be done at a more intense pace.
If you enjoy exercising in a group setting, there are many types of aerobic classes or sports you can try, such as:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week OR
- 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week OR
- an equivalent combination of both
If you engage in moderate-intensity workouts, such as a brisk walk, then 30 minutes every day can help you reap a variety of benefits. You could also break this up into two 15-minute walks, or three 10-minute walks each day.
There is no recommended upper limit on the amount of cardio exercise you should do on a daily or weekly basis. However, if you push yourself hard with every workout, then skipping a day or two each week to rest may help you avoid injury and burnout.
Although cardio exercise has many benefits, a 2017 study found that there could be risks associated with exercising intensely every day or most days of the week.
The limits of how much cardio exercise is safe varies from one person to the next. It also depends on:
- your level of fitness
- your overall health
- any underlying health conditions
But in general, the following symptoms may suggest that you’re overdoing it:
- muscle soreness that lingers
- painful joints
- exercises that were once easy become more difficult
- decreasing interest or enthusiasm for exercising
- poor sleep
If you haven’t exercised for some time, or you’re recovering from an injury or illness, it’s best to talk with your doctor about how to safely begin a cardio routine, and how long and how often to work out.
Also, talk with your doctor if you have a condition that may restrict the kinds of exercise you can safely do. This includes heart disease, respiratory problems, arthritis, or any type of issue with your joints.
Daily cardio exercise has its share of pros and cons. And it’s important to understand what they are, as these factors can affect your health.
Pros of daily cardio exercise
- improves your heart function and cardiovascular health
- helps you sleep better at night, especially if you exercise earlier in the day
- improves blood flow and helps manage high blood pressure
- improves your body’s use of fat as an energy source, which may lead to weight loss
- improves your lung function and overall respiratory health
- boosts your mood, increases your energy, and lowers stress
Cons of daily cardio exercise
- physical and mental exhaustion
- loss of muscle mass, which can occur if you don’t fuel up with enough calories to prevent your body from drawing energy from muscle tissue
- injury due to overtraining
Weight loss happens when you use up more calories than you consume. That’s why the calorie-burning effects of cardio exercise can be an excellent way to lose weight.
For example, 30 minutes of brisk walking (3.5 miles per hour) can burn about 140 calories. That equates to 980 calories per week, or nearly 4,000 calories a month.
Even if you don’t cut back on your calorie consumption, a half hour of cardio exercise a day could result in losing at least a pound a month (one pound equals about 3,500 calories).
Exercising more frequently and making dietary changes could result in even greater weight loss. Keep in mind, though, that as your fitness improves, your body may become more efficient at burning calories.
What this means is that, over time, you’ll likely burn fewer calories doing the same exercise. As a result, weight loss may slow down unless you bump up your calorie-burning activities.
This could include doing cardio exercise 3 to 4 days a week and strength training 2 to 3 days a week.
Before starting a cardio workout routine, take stock of your fitness level, and be realistic about what an exercise program would be like for you.
If you’ve been sedentary for a while, start with short workouts of low intensity. As you start to build up your endurance, you can make your workouts longer, but not more intense.
Once you’re used to longer workouts, you can start to slowly increase the intensity of your cardio workout.
Also, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Warm up for a few minutes with a brisk walk or a few minutes of calisthenics. Cool down the same way.
- Skip a workout if you feel sick or you don’t have much energy.
- Hydrate with fluids before, during, and after your workout.
- Try to avoid running or jogging on uneven terrain that could increase your risk of an ankle injury or fall.
- Stop if you feel sudden pain or have trouble catching your breath.
A 30-minute cardio workout is a safe activity for most people to do every day. However, people who have chronic health conditions may not be able to do as much cardio exercise. But it’s still important to try to be as active as possible.
If you typically do more intense and longer cardio workouts, a day of rest each week may help your body recover, and also lower your risk of injury.
If your goal is to lose weight, try to slowly increase the duration and intensity of your cardio workouts so you don’t hit a plateau with your weight loss efforts. Also, for best results, try to combine your cardio workouts with strength training workouts each week.
If you’re new to cardio exercise, or you have an injury or underlying health condition, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.