You may have heard that cardio exercise can be good for your health. Find out if 20 minutes of this a day is already enough to see positive results.
As long as your body is strong enough to be able to deal with it, working up to 20 minutes of cardio a day and sticking to it is already enough to make a big positive difference.
At the same time, you need to know that the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week for adults.
That means 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a day is not enough to reach these guidelines. You will have to implement at least a few vigorous-intensity sessions for this.
Additionally, the same organization also recommends doing muscle-strengthening resistance training on 2 or more days a week.
In simpler words, 20 minutes of cardio a day is enough to see nice amounts of calorie-burning, cardiovascular health improvements, and other benefits but not enough to reach the ODPHP guidelines for optimal health.
What happens if you do 20 minutes of cardio a day
For now, it may sound too simple to work but working up to 20 minutes of cardio a day and sticking to it can offer some amazing short and long term benefits.
You can write down the benefits that motivate you the most for times when you just can’t seem to move yourself. Additionally, they can help you explain some of the body changes you will experience.
Is 20 mins of cardio a day enough to lose weight?
Losing weight, more specifically excess body fat, is a popular fitness goal and for a good reason. Having excess body fat can cause a variety of negative health effects.
To lose weight, you want to make sure you use more energy (measured in calories) than is coming in from food. In a situation like this, your body starts using energy stores like body fat to make up for the difference.
Exactly how many calories 20 minutes of cardio burns depends on the specific activity. Some examples for a 155-pound (70.3 kg) person doing the activities include (1):
- Walking (3 mph = 4.8 kmh): 85 calories
- Rowing machine (moderate effort): 117 calories
- Bicycling (12 mph = 19.3 kmh): 195 calories
- Swimming crawl (medium speed = 50 yards/minute): 203 calories
- Running (6 mph = 9.7 kmh): 239 calories
To put these numbers into perspective, one medium-sized chocolate chip cookie contains about 78 calories (2).
Additionally, it is helpful to know that one pound of body fat (0.45 kg) is about 3500 calories.
The calorie-burning numbers above are rough estimations but they do make a few things clear.
First of all, whether or not 20 minutes of cardio a day is enough to lose weight depends a lot on other lifestyle habits like nutrition too.
You can lose weight without any exercise and potentially gain weight with a good exercise routine.
Secondly, exactly what type of cardio you choose and at what intensity you do it will influence your weight loss results a lot.
Running would literally burn 2.8 times as many calories as walking in the same time frame.
In short, 20 minutes of cardio every day can help you lose weight but it is no guarantee. Some forms of cardio will also be more effective than others.
Could improve cardiovascular health
Cardio exercise is a type of workout where you mainly work your heart, blood vessels, and lungs aka your cardiovascular system.
These body parts are responsible for absorbing oxygen from the air and moving this oxygen, nutrients, and waste products around your body.
When you move more intensely by doing cardio exercise, your heart and lungs have to work more intensely than usual.
At an intensity level that is challenging enough (but not too challenging) this can help you strengthen your cardiovascular system.
20 minutes a day may not sound like a lot but if you really pick up the pace it could be enough to get fit. Especially if you don’t mind going into a cardiovascular intensity level that is not always considered cardio.
Your mood could improve
It can be easy to forget but the health of your body and the habits you implement can have a big impact on the positivity of your mood and thoughts.
The first way working up to 20 minutes of cardio a day and sticking to it can help your mood is simply reducing the risk of conditions that would make you feel worse.
Lastly, doing something challenging that is good for you will likely also leave you feeling satisfied.
You could sleep better
Most people know that improving the duration and quality of their sleep would be good for their mood, health, and fitness goals like building muscle and losing weight.
That being said, some people are unsure about how to make this happen.
One of the things that can improve sleep quality and duration is exercise (9, 10, 11). That means working up to 20 min of cardio a day could benefit these things and offer all the positive effects that come with that.
Your muscle endurance could become better
By definition, cardio exercise is a category of activities that will mainly work your cardiovascular system.
That being said, during basically any option you have, you will also engage a few skeletal muscles to some extent. Especially in more intense activities that involve running.
This is generally not enough to actually grow the muscles but engaging them can still offer a few benefits. These include improving muscle endurance, slowing down degradation, and making the muscles healthier.
Better muscle endurance is not only helpful for your cardio sessions. It could also make daily activities like standing up, moving around, climbing the stairs, etc. easier and more convenient.
Are 20 minutes of cardio a day good?
By now it is clear that doing 20 minutes of cardio a day can offer valuable benefits and will definitely make a difference. However, is this amount enough to be called “good”?
This question is somewhat vague but when it comes to cardiovascular workout routines, you can describe 20 minutes a day as good.
To give a more specific answer, the following exercise guidelines for adults from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion can be helpful (12):
- Moving more and sitting less throughout the day
- At least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. Preferably spread throughout the week.
- You can gain additional health benefits by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
For 20 minutes of cardio a day to be enough according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion guidelines at least a few days would have to be done at vigorous intensity.
That being said, most people will agree that if you only have the time and capacity for 20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a day, it will make a positive difference compared to doing no workouts at all.
If you do decide to implement the higher-intensity cardiovascular sessions too, you will be surprised to see how fit you can get by consistently doing just 20 minutes of exercise a day.
Can you just do cardio?
As the guidelines above imply, most people also want to implement a few sessions of resistance training a week if optimal health is the goal.
Lifting 2 or 3 times a week can make a big positive difference in your health. Even just one session of bodyweight exercises like lunges, pushups, pull-ups, etc. can already offer valuable benefits.
It is likely even worth changing one of your cardio sessions to a resistance training workout.
How to start implementing 20 minutes of cardio a day
For some people, 20 minutes of cardio is just something they do as a warmup in the morning before getting to the “real” workout.
For others, working up to this amount of exercise can seem like a scary and challenging goal. Luckily there are some things people in this second category can do to make things easier.
The main technique to implement here is starting small and building up from there. Both to make sure your body can handle the new routine and to build up the habit.
You can start with something like one extra 10-minute session of walking a week. If that goes well, you can start implementing longer sessions or more intense cardio workouts like cycling, rowing, or using an elliptical machine.
As you get stronger and strengthen your willpower, you can get closer to and reach the 20 minutes of cardio a day routine you set out to achieve. After that, maintaining (or improving even more) is the goal.