Not sure where to start with your fitness plan? It may help to know what the health experts' current recommended cardio per week is. It's up to you whether you'll work out vigorously a few days a week, or spend a little more time working out by following some moderate exercise examples.
Understanding Ages and Stages
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) breaks down its fitness categories of recommended cardio per week by stage of life. For kids, teens and active adults, the timetable depends on whether the activity is moderate or vigorous.
For people for who vigorous exercise isn't usually recommended, such as seniors or adults with certain disabilities, usually only moderate-intensity guidelines are included. Vigorous exercise is also discouraged for pregnant women, unless they were accustomed to intense cardio before conceiving.
Muscle and bone strength should also be factored into your fitness schedule. If your cardio doesn’t involve whole-body muscle groups, or weight-bearing activities, consider adding resistance training to your routine.
Recommended Exercise Per Day
Kids from 6 to 17 should be involved in moderate-to-vigorous activity for a total of about 60 minutes a day, according to HHS. (After toddlerhood, that can be more of a challenge in an increasingly indoor-orientated culture.)
Most adults should be getting a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 weekly minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise.
For optimal benefits, 300 minutes of moderate cardio, or 150 minutes of vigorous cardio, will be needed each week for healthy adults.
Older adults and those with disabilities are also urged to do at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio a week, when health permits. The same time recommendation is given for women who are pregnant or who are in the postpartum period.
Putting Guidelines Into Practice
If you haven't been exercising regularly for some time, and even the minimum guidelines for health seem too extreme, where do you start? While it may seem tempting to jump right to vigorous cardio in order to save time, the approach you're more likely to stick with is the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
For most people, that works out at around 30 minutes of recommended exercise per day, five days a week, or just over 20 minutes if done every day. Keep in mind, however, that those should be your minimum goals. Mayo Clinic recommends aiming for at least half-hour daily workouts. If you want to lose more weight and make significant health gains, increasing to 45 minutes becomes the recommended exercise per day goal.
Try These Moderate Exercise Examples
Chances are, many of the activities you already enjoy doing "count" as actual heart-healthy, calorie-burning cardio. The American Heart Association lists several moderate exercise examples from which you can choose.
These moderate workouts include non-vigorous biking (speeds of below 10 miles per hour), along with social dancing, doubles tennis, gardening, leisurely swimming and water aerobics classes. Walking is another obvious choice, but you should aim for a pace of at least 2.5 miles an hour, which is faster than a stroll, but slower than race-walking.
Moving into Vigorous Exercise
If you're already fairly fit, you may want to ramp up the health benefits — and time-saving strategies — by moving into vigorous cardio. If you're trying to meet HHS' recommendation of between 75 and 150 minutes per week of more intense exercise, you'll be aiming for about 20 to 35 minutes, every other day.
Among the activities that fall under the category of active cardio are jogging, lap swimming, aerobics classes and fast cycling (more than 10 mph). Other cardio you can work into your vigorous exercise routine includes singles tennis, heavy landscaping chores like digging, jumping rope, and a challenging hike.
- American Heart Association: American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:"2015-2020 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "How Much Should the Average Adult Exercise Every Day?"