Updated: Oct 13, 2019

We know that cardiovascular exercise is important, but the question is which activities and how much is good for overall health and weight loss?

Mixing up and changing workouts is at the essence of results.

To #cardio or not to cardio? That would be the question mostly likely posed by Shakespeare if he lived long enough to see Instagram and had the means to post about his workout routine (if he had one).

However, the question about cardiovascular exercise is one I get from clients all the time. The answer to cardio is yes; however, I’m here to provide you caveats, which everyone loves.

First, let’s think about why you are doing the cardiovascular exercise in the first place. Is it to lose weight, body fat or to strengthen your heart?

Losing weight and body fat are the natural byproducts of being physically active in the first place. In the former, supplementing some sort of cardiovascular exercise- swimming, treadmill, elliptical, hiking and outdoor walking are some examples- with your daily routine would be the most optimal course of action.

With regards to body fat, it gets a little more technical. I’m sure you’ve heard that lower intensity exercise burns a greater percentage of body fat intra-workout. However, that overlooks the total, overall calorie burn, which is greater during high-intensity exercise.

For example, if the low intensity session burns, say, 400 calories, yes a greater proportion of those calories will be utilized from fat. The higher-intensity alternative might burn on the order of double the calorie load. So, while the percentage of those calories burned may skew more toward carbohydrates, you are burning a greater amount of fat calories total, as well as the calories burned post-workout. (We sometimes call this the afterburn.)

Other considerations of cardiovascular exercise are when you do it and the frequency and duration of those sessions. If you’re looking to add muscle and strength, know that it would be better to focus more on resistance training while keeping those cardio sessions shorter and after the weights.

If your goals lean more toward leaning out, increase the time and intensity and don’t forget to mix it up. Your body is incredibly adaptive. Since the weather is so nice right now and the sun stays out longer during these spring days, get your cardio in while outdoors (with a healthy slathering of sunscreen) to avoid making it seem like drudgery.

We always want to stay one step ahead and to keep knocking out goals to avoid the dread gym phenomenon known as plateaus. You don’t want to end up like the aforementioned poet’s Richard III, looking at your exercise plan as the winter of your discontent.