As a whole, Americans aren’t doing cardio right. Most don’t get enough of it to enjoy its myriad of health benefits, while a small minority are getting too much.
It’s difficult to exactly know how much of it you should be doing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says adults should be getting 150 minutes per week of “moderate intensity” or 75 minutes of “high intensity” exercise. That leaves a lot to interpretation.
But if you dig a little deeper into the Physical Activity Recommendations for Americans (2nd edition), you can find a little more guidance. For instance, low-intensity activity is defined as non-sedentary but light activity such as a leisurely walk or basic household chores.
Examples of medium-level intensity include raking the yard, brisk walking, playing doubles tennis or other activities that elevate your heart rate a substantially. High-intensity equals jogging or running, carrying heavy groceries upstairs, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or other situations where you find yourself having a hard time having a conversation.
So, Exactly How Much Cardio?
The health and human services department sets the baseline for active adults and active older adults at the well-known two and a half hours (150 minutes) of low-to-moderate intensity movement or half as much for high-intensity exercise, but states exercisers can gain “substantial health benefits” at anywhere from 150 to 300 minutes (2 1/2 to 5 hours) of low to moderate intensity movement, or half as much of intense workouts.
Going beyond the upper end of that window brings even more benefits, but don’t forget about strength training on at least two days of the week.
Can You Do Too Much?
The health and human services department says researchers have not found an upper limit beyond 300 minutes of cardio per week at which people stop accruing health benefits, but you still need to be cautious.
The guidelines have a section on “active and safe” activity, with guidance on gradually increasing physical activity to avoid injury and working with health care providers if you have chronic conditions or are pregnant.
You can find the complete physical activity guidelines at: www.health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf