Most people vaguely know that cardio can benefit weight loss. Even so, you may want to know more specifically about how much you actually need.
Losing weight requires you to use more energy than is coming in from the things you eat. Because cardio increases your energy usage, it can help with this.
However, this principle should also make it clear that what cardio you do and what your habits in other areas are will influence how much cardio you need for weight loss a lot.
Some people don’t need any cardio to achieve this whereas it is also possible to do one hour of cardio a day without any results.
With that in mind, you can still get some very rough estimations by looking at how many calories certain activities burn and how much energy is typically coming in.
For example, if a 155-pound (70 kg) person is currently at a weight loss plateau and doesn’t change any other habits, they would have to run 5 mph on a treadmill for about 365 minutes to lose a pound (0.45 kg) of body fat.
This first estimation will likely be suboptimal so you want to measure your results and adjust your cardio routine (or other habits) if you want to see more or less weight loss.
How much cardio will you need to lose weight?
To help you understand how much cardio you will need to lose weight it is worth mentioning the main principle of fat loss.
If you want to lose weight, you need to make it so your body needs more energy than is coming in from your diet. At this point, you start using energy stores like body fat.
There are many ways to make this happen. Some are better than others.
Cardio can help you lose weight because the movements involved are more intense and in turn, burn more energy than typical daily activities.
However, other lifestyle areas will ultimately still influence your weight loss results a lot. This makes it so there is no magical amount of cardio that can help everyone lose weight.
It is possible to lose weight without any cardio in many situations. In other cases, you could do an hour of cardio a day without seeing any results.
One way to approach this is implementing a certain cardio routine, measuring your weight loss results, and potentially changing your cardio workouts if the results are not as desired.
Even though calories in calories out is not the perfect way to approach weight loss, you can use it one step before this to estimate whether you should also make changes in areas like your diet.
Which cardio burns the most fat?
To put into numbers what fat loss results you can expect from cardio and which options are the best for this purpose, there are ways to estimate how many calories activities burn.
You need to keep in mind that these predictions are not perfect. In reality, you will likely burn different amounts of fat because of differences in exact intensity, hormone levels, body composition, etc.
That being said, these numbers can still be helpful to get an idea of which cardio burns the most fat.
A 155-pound (70 kg) person burns more or less the following amounts of calories while doing different forms of cardio for 30 minutes (1):
- Water Aerobics: 144 calories
- Walking 4 mph: 175 calories
- Stair Step Machine (general): 216 calories
- Swimming (general): 216 calories
- Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 252 calories
- Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 252 calories
- Running 5 mph: 288 calories
- Elliptical Trainer (general): 324 calories
- Ski machine (general): 324 calories
From a high-level view, the cardio that burns the most fat is the one that you can do intensely without injuring yourself.
That means you can burn more energy by doing things like turning up the resistance on your stationary bike and/or just speeding up your movements in your cardiovascular workouts.
How much cardio should you do a day to lose 2 pounds a week?
While it is not perfect, you can use the calorie-burning estimations above to get a rough idea of how much cardio you should do a day to lose 2 pounds a week.
Your actual habits in areas like your diet will still influence things a lot. However, by temporarily assuming all the calories you burn with cardio come from fat, you can get interesting numbers.
One pound of body fat is around 3500 calories which means one kilogram of body fat is around 8000 calories.
To lose 2 pounds a week with only cardio, a 185-pound (84 kg) person would have to do the following amounts of exercise a day:
- 159 minutes of walking at 4 mph
- 102 minutes of moderate-effort stationary rowing or cycling
- 90 minutes of running at 5 mph
- 80 minutes of using an elliptical trainer
As you can see, you likely want to make other positive changes in your lifestyle besides doing more cardio if you are interested in losing a lot of weight.
Even 45 minutes of cardio a day is not enough to lose 2 pounds a week if you don’t make any of these other changes.
Something you can do to see slightly more results is HIIT for weight loss. This tends to be more effective for burning a lot of energy in a short amount of time.
How much cardio should you do to lose belly fat?
Some people wonder whether there is a specific duration of cardio workouts that is optimal for losing fat from specific areas like their stomachs.
Unfortunately, it is generally not possible to target fat loss in significant amounts.
That means you want to apply the general principles of how much cardio you need to lose weight.
As you see more and more results from your cardio sessions, you will also lose more and more belly fat.
Can I lose weight by doing cardio for 30 minutes a day?
If you are currently at a weight plateau and don’t make any other changes, you will likely lose weight by doing cardio for 30 minutes a day. In other situations, details like what cardio you do and what your habits in other areas are will influence your results a lot.