I wish there were a simple answer to this question: How many days a week should you do cardio? But, like most challenging questions in life, the answer is sort of complex.

The simplest answer is this: Enough days (and for enough minutes) that you’re creating a calorie deficit. There’s an equilibrium calories intake for your unique body. This is the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight. The average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain her weight. The average man needs about 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight.

But those are just averages. The equilibrium calorie amount is going to be different based on your:

  • Gender
  • Current weight
  • Physical activity
  • Genetics
  • Age

Sites like HealthLine.com ever offer helpful calculators that identify your ideal equilibrium calorie intake. (WebMD.com offers a chart.) You can’t control your gender, genetics or age. I suppose you can control your weight, but that’s why you want to do cardio in the first place. The one thing you have the most control over is your daily physical activity.

So, to help you answer the question of how many days a week you should do cardio, here’s a look at how cardio impacts your body.

I’ve already said that this seemingly simple question has a complex answer. Read on to learn more about the complexities of how many days a week you should do cardio. But, if you’re looking for immediate gratification: I would say that 5 days a week is the perfect amount. That allows you to go two days on and one day off. But please do read on for more detail on how to maximize your cardio workouts.


First of All: What is Cardio?

Many people confuse aerobic exercise with cardio. They’re similar, yes, but not identical.

Aerobic exercise is any activity during which you’re constantly in motion. Jumping rope, running, walking, swimming and biking are all aerobic exercises.

But cardio is any physical activity that raises your heart rate. Many aerobic exercises are cardio, too, but not all cardio exercises are aerobic as well. Interval training is a good example. You may hit the track for some interval training, and you may keep your heart rate up the entire time. But, between intervals, you may not be in motion, which means it’s not an aerobic exercise.

This isn’t a super important distinction, but in the name of full disclosure I thought I should share. Some of the most popular cardio activities these days are:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cycling
  • Circuit Training
  • Jumping Rope
  • Climbing Stairs
  • Elliptical Training
  • Interval Training

There are others, too. But this gives you a good idea of what “cardio” means.


How Long and How Often to Do Cardio

If you’re looking for an authority on the subject, look no further than the National Institutes of Health. They recommend (roughly) engaging in cardio workouts for 30 to 45 minutes at a time three to five days a week.

But here’s what’s more important than their recommendation. You need to engage in a cardio routine that’s:

  • Sustainable: If you start out with cardio at a pace that’s hard to keep up with, you’re eventually going to burn out — and stop doing cardio altogether. Land on a routine that’s sustainable.
  • Beneficial: You also need a cardio routine that delivers results. If you’re not seeing results, you’re going to get discouraged and quit. Don’t expect results immediately. That’s not what I’m saying. But it’s going to be miserable if you spend six months doing cardio, and you step on a scale only to find you weigh the same.
  • Healthy: Make sure what you’re doing is healthy, both heart healthy and orthopedically healthy. The last thing you want is to have a health event related to your cardio, or to suffer an injury that makes cardio impossible. What’s healthy for one person won’t be healthy for another. But here’s a pro tip: Don’t do cardio seven days a week. That’s not healthy for anyone.

And, lastly, make sure you mind what you eat when you start a cardio routine, no matter how many days or for how long at a time. When you engage in cardio, you’re going to feel hungrier due to the extra energy you’re expending. But, if you start eating more, you’ll erase the gains cardio is helping you make.

It gets better with time. When you start engaging in cardio, you may feel famished after workouts. But resist the urge to binge eat. In a month or even a few weeks, you won’t feel as hungry after a tough workout.


The No. 1 Tip for Maximizing Cardio: Change it Up

I wanted to separate out this tip: Make sure you change it up. Your body becomes used to whatever it does. If you jog 3 miles day after day after day, your body will eventually acclimate to that distance and you’ll stop burning as much fat.

But, if you work in a rowing workout, and a high-intensity interval training, and a swimming session, you’re body will be left guessing what’s coming next, and it will continue to burn.

The easiest thing in the world is to settle into a daily routine. But, change it up and you’ll find that the benefit to your body is exponentially better.


Just One Piece of the Puzzle

Cardio isn’t a standalone answer to your fitness goals. You need to engage in multiple types of cardio, as stated above, and you need to find some time for weight workouts, too. And, what you eat matters a great deal.

The healthiest people in the world create active lifestyles within which they eat healthy on a daily basis — but they’re also able to splurge and enjoy a gluttonous meal from time to time. This is natural and healthy, and it’s what helps you lead a fully satisfied life.


Final Thoughts on How Many Days a Week You Should Do Cardio

For complete transparency: I do cardio six times a week (I take Sundays off). But maybe it’s best for you to do cardio on work days, which means a 5-day-a-week plan works best. Or maybe it’s best for you to do cardio every other day, which means you end up doing it three or four times a week.

Whatever you land on, make sure your cardio is sustainable, beneficial and healthy, and make sure you’re changing it up to maximize the benefit. If so, you’ll find that you see the results you’ve been wanting.

What’s your cardio routine? Let us know in the comments section below, or send us a message using our contact page — we’d love to hear from you.