Here's How Much Cardio You Really Need In Your Workout

Your workouts need to include both cardio and strength training to get all the benefits of exercising regularly, but there are plenty of health benefits from cardio exercise alone. Benefits of cardio include burning calories, strengthening muscles (including your heart), reducing arthritis pain and stiffness, better sleep, better mood, appetite control, and prevention or management of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cardio workouts can include running, walking, bicycling, swimming, hiking, elliptical training, rowing, dancing, and anything else that gets your heart rate up. You need a certain amount of cardio every week to reap all the benefits, but that's not the only way to measure it.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least two-and-a-half hours of exercise weekly, and more is better. You can split that up into 30-minute workouts five days a week, or 50-minute workouts three times a week. They also recommend a goal of 10,000 steps a day. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise weekly, which could be something as simple as a brisk walk.

There's more to it than just those numbers, though: You have to consider your heart rate, when it comes to cardio and what your exercise goals are.

It's all about your heart rate

Nader A. Ayub, DO tells Men's Health the two-and-a-half hours a week of moderate-intensity cardio needs to be an exercise that gets your heart rate up to 60 percent of its max, which is a little different for everyone. An exercise physiology lab can give you the most accurate reading, but you can calculate an estimate of your max heart rate. First, subtract your age from 220. Someone who is 40 years old has a max heart rate of 180, and 60 percent of that is 108, so that person needs to maintain a heart rate of 108 beats per minute (BPM) during moderate-intensity exercise.

Nader further explains that you can cut that 150 minutes of weekly cardio in half if you do vigorous-intensity workouts, which would have your heart rate at 80 percent of its max. For the 40 year old, that would be 144 BPM for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio per week. You can also spread this out to 25 minutes of exercise three times a week, or even 38 minutes of exercise twice a week. If you want to workout five times a week, you can do 15 minutes each day.

If you're looking to lose weight or improve your athletic performance, you'll need to double the weekly recommendations. You need 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio weekly, as well as strength training.