How much cardio to lose weight fast?

by Naomi Tupper on November 21, 2012 · 7 comments

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Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question.  As there are so many variable s involved in both weight loss and so many types of cardiovascular exercise, there is not one method that will help everybody lose weight the fastest.  It can be said, however, that there is no doubt that exercise is extremely important in maintaining a healthy weight, as well as reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

How much cardio is enough for weight loss?

When it comes to fast weight loss, there is no doubt that incorporating some cardiovascular exercise into your daily routine will increase results.  However, the impact that exercise has on the rate at which you lose weight will depend on a variety of factors.

Have you increased the amount or intensity of your cardio workout?

If you want to lose weight or increase the rate of weight loss, a good place to start is by increasing the calories burnt during exercise.  To change your weight, you need to make changes in your lifestyle, and a new exercise routine is one of the best ways to kick start your weight loss plan.

Cardio or aerobic exercise, which gets the heart pumping, is the most beneficial for burning calories, however, aerobic, or resistance training may also help to increase weight loss in combination with a cardio routine.  Be aware though that resistance training is likely to increase muscle mass, so even if you don’t see weight loss results on the scales, you are still toning your body and reducing body fat.

If you want to lose weight faster, it is advisable to bump up your energy expenditure by increasing the duration or intensity of your workout.  The length of time for which you exercise will be different for everyone, depending on your level of fitness to begin with.

For example, if you have never exercised, it is not advisable to start out with a one hour, high intensity spin class.  If you are new to exercise, consult your doctor as to what type of activity and duration is a suitable starting point for you, particularly if you are overweight or have any medical conditions.

Remember that any exercise is better than none, so even if you start with a low intensity workout for thirty minutes three times a week, you can gradually build on this as your fitness level increases.  It is also important to remember that the best type of cardio is one you are going to do, i.e. one you enjoy doing.  Cardiovascular exercise should be part of your everyday lifestyle, so find something you like and are likely to stick to.

It is thought that cardiovascular exercise sessions should be around 40 to 60 minutes long, with some studies suggesting that longer than this does not have much more effect on calories burnt for the extra effort involved.

Overtraining is not a good way to enhance your weight loss, not only do you increase your risk of injury, you are more likely to compensate for the calories burnt by overeating afterwards.  Aim for 40 to 60 minutes at least five times a week for best results and quickest weight loss.

There is strong evidence that interval training, (high intensity exercise for a short time, followed by a recovery period), is more effective for fat loss.  This may not be a good option if you are new to exercising, but if you have a good basic level of fitness, a cardio workout which incorporates short sprints with an active recovery could be a way to increase calories burnt in the same time.

Consulting an exercise physiologist or personal trainer can really help to develop a challenging routine to get the most out of your exercise time.  Motivation levels are also likely to increase if someone is yelling at you and pushing you to your limit.

Are you following a diet suitable for weight loss?

Exercise alone, despite how well thought out your plan is, is not enough to lose weight if you do not follow a healthy diet.  You can sweat it out at the gym for an hour, but if you come home and reward yourself with a bar of chocolate, you are not going to lose weight.

A low fat diet, high in foods such as fruit and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains is ideal when you want to lose weight and for good health.  It is also important to monitor your portion sizes and be aware of the calorie content of the food you are eating.

What is your overall energy balance?

In order to lose weight, you must be in negative energy balance.  This means that the energy you are expending is more than the energy you are consuming.  Cardio is a great way to increase your energy expenditure, which can help with weight loss, however, for fastest results, a lower calorie diet, should also be followed.

It is, however, important to remember that your diet needs to provide you with enough energy to complete your cardio workout, as well as provide your body with essential nutrients, so it is not healthy to restrict calories too much.  Reducing portion sizes, choosing low fat and low sugar options is a good starting point for reducing your calorie intake.

What type of cardio are you doing?

All cardio is not equal.  A hour leisurely stroll, for example, will burn far fewer calories than a hour spin class, even though the time spent exercising is the same.  To burn the most calories in the time you have, choose an activity which burns calories efficiently.  Remember though, that it is more important to choose a type of exercise you enjoy and will do, than one that burns a heap of calories, but you never actually get around to doing. 

Average calories burnt in one hour for a 160 pound individual: 

CardioCalories burnt
Running (5mph/8mph)606/861
Walking (2mph/3.5mph)204/314
Swimming423
Rowing438
Tennis584
Aerobics (high/low impact)533/365
Skipping861
Tae Kwon Do752
Cycling (leisure/spin class)292/500

What is a healthy rate of weight loss?

A healthy weight loss rate is recommended to be one to two pounds per week.  Whilst this may not seem like much, and you may be in a hurry to lose weight faster, remember that you didn’t gain your excess weight overnight.  Weight gain is a gradual process, and therefore healthy weight loss can also take time.

To achieve this weight loss, it is necessary to burn 3500 to 7000 extra calories per week through exercise, or to reduce your calorie intake by this amount.  For best results that are the easiest to maintain long term, a combination of a reduced calorie diet and increased physical activity is the best choice.

In Summary

To lose weight as fast as possible (although still at a healthy rate)

  • Increase your cardio activity, either in time or intensity or for best results both. (If you are new to exercising, build this up gradually)
  • Choose cardio activities that burn more calories in a shorter time if you have a restricted time for working out.
  • Include both high intensity and moderate cardio for maximum calorie burning potential
  • Decrease your calorie intake and follow a healthy diet
  • Aim for at least up to 300 minutes of moderate cardio or 150 minutes of high intensity cardio per week for weight loss

References used in this article

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Naomi Tupper
About the author

Naomi studied Nutrition and Dietetics and Biotechnology. She is a certified dietician with experience in Type 2 diabetes and menu planning for weight loss. Naomi is a contributor for our Diet and Nutrition sections. You can connect with her on Facebook and Google+

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