Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise makes your heart beat faster and your lungs work harder than usual. (1) It is one of the fastest ways to burn excess body fat for a svelte and fit physique while also improving your overall health and life expectancy.
The good thing is it includes a variety of high-, moderate-, and low-intensity exercises such as brisk walking, sprinting, swimming, cycling, jumping jacks, skipping rope, kickboxing, mountain climbing, dancing, burpees, and a range of sports such as soccer, tennis, and basketball.
You can choose what suits you best and keep switching between different exercises to keep your workout routine from getting boring.
Cardio Tips to Help Accelerate Your Weight-Loss Process
These seven training and nutritional tips will help you start tackling cardio workouts and accelerate your fat-loss process.
1. Always do an active warmup
A proper warmup is designed to increase blood flow to your bodily tissues and drive up your body’s temperature to prepare it for activity.
If you’ve ever “warmed up” for a run with a static standing quad stretch, you probably haven’t witnessed the true benefits of a warmup. Static stretching is ideal for increasing joint range of motion and overall mobility, but it has been found to decrease muscle strength and exercise performance for a short time following the activity. (2)
To psychologically prepare your body for what’s to come, raise your respiration and heart rates, and ensure that you get the most out of your cardio workout, perform dynamic warmup activities for 5–15 minutes before your workout. These can include light jogging four to five short sprints of around 50–60 meters and common warmup exercises such as jumping jacks, leg swings, lunges, high knees, and skips (such as A-, B-, and C-skips).
Choose 3–10 exercises and perform 10–15 reps of each, resting up to 90 seconds between exercises.
2. Eat before (and during) an intense or extremely lengthy cardio session
When you’re exercising and attempting to lose weight, carbohydrates should not be your energy. Carbs – broken down into glucose and stored in your body’s liver and muscular tissue as glycogen – are the body’s primary and most efficiently absorbed source of fuel. (5)
(And not just for endurance activities: your brain uses nearly 70% of your glucose intake to perform everyday functions.)
Your body can store enough glycogen for around 90–120 minutes of cardiovascular activity, but you’ll begin to hit a wall (or feel more fatigued) after 60 minutes if you aren’t replenishing those stores during activity.
Strive to consume a meal 3–4 hours before your cardio session, consisting of low-fiber carbs and lean proteins. If you’re rushing to a cardio workout and don’t have time to make a meal, consider grabbing an on-the-go, carb-rich option 30 minutes to 1 hour before you begin, such as chocolate milk or a serving of fresh fruit.
And if you’re planning on exercising for over an hour, consider consuming a source of quick-digesting carbs, such as energy gels, for every additional 60 minutes.
3. Add variety to avoid burnout
When you start to lose weight, it can be encouraging – your hard work is paying off. But often, a plateau in progress caused by repetitive workouts and burnout can send your motivation spiraling.
Research shows that incorporating variety into your cardio workouts will increase your adherence – or your willingness to stick with it – and drive you closer to your goals. (6)
If you typically run three to four days a week, swap a day or two of running mileage for a jump rope session, 30–45 minutes in the pool, a cycling or rowing workout, or even a pick-up sports game.
4. Prioritize intensity levels
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults younger than 64 years should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, (7) which can be spaced across five days and includes activities such as brisk walking.
As an alternative, you can accumulate 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (such as running, swimming, or HIIT workouts) spanning throughout the week, accomplished over at least 3 days (or a 150-minute combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise).
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is effective at reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases. (7) But if your goal is to burn the highest number of calories in the shortest amount of time, which will contribute favorably to your weight-loss goals, vigorous-intensity cardio sessions such as HIIT training can help you burn 25%–30% more calories than activities such as running. (8)
5. Drink plenty of water
Water makes up around 50%–70% of your total body mass and is responsible for many of your body’s crucial functions, including regulation of body temperature, joint and tissue lubrication, nutrient transportation, waste removal, and providing blood volume.
When you’re dehydrated during exercise, your blood volume is decreased, resulting in less efficient venous return (or blood returning to your heart) and a spike in heart rate. This, in turn, drives up your cardiovascular strain, which can make your workout feel more difficult and cause you to quit prematurely
Research has also shown that overweight individuals who consumed 500 milliliters of water each before three meals throughout the day (for a total of 1,500 milliliters) all experienced a reduction in weight and BMI. (9) For optimal cardiovascular performance, exercising women should consume at least 2,700 milliliters of water per day, and men should consume 3,700 milliliters.
When you have your pre-workout meal, drink 500–600 milliliters of water along with it, and another 5–10 ounces right before you begin. Depending on how much you sweat, you’ll want to drink 400–800 milliliters of water every 60 minutes that you’re moving.
And after your workout, you’ll want to properly rehydrate with at least 470 milliliters of water or a 6%–8% carb-concentrated sports drink, along with electrolyte sources.
Sodium and carbs promote fluid retention, so consuming things such as mustard, pickle juice, fruits and vegetables (which can be up to 90% water), and salty soups can help you replace and retain the fluids lost through sweat during activity.
6. Never skip proper recovery meals
To lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit, which means that you are burning more calories through exercise and metabolic processes than you are consuming. After your cardio workout, don’t skimp on refueling your body to promote recovery, even when you are trying to lose weight, or your performance – and progress – will suffer.
Aim to consume a meal 2 hours after your cardio session, with a focus on quality carbohydrates (1–1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight every hour) and lean protein (0.25–0.3 grams per kilogram). There is often a heavy focus on consuming primarily protein following a workout, but this is less necessary for those performing only cardio exercises. (10)
Consuming post-workout carbs is necessary to preserve lean muscle mass. Without adequate glycogen storage and carb intake during recovery, your body will begin to break down muscle tissue to use as energy through a process called gluconeogenesis. Lean body mass breakdown that often comes with very low-calorie or low-carb diets can lower your resting metabolism, making weight loss highly unsustainable.
When you’re trying to lose weight – or fat, specifically – it can be difficult to know where to start, and the stakes may feel overwhelming. After all, heart disease continues to sit atop the world’s leading causes of death, and worldwide obesity has increased nearly threefold since 1975. (11)
Obesity is a complex but preventable condition that is defined as a body mass index [BMI] greater than or equal to 30. It increases your risk of developing comorbidities and premature death, (3) but your level of cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the strongest predictors of whether that increased risk will become a reality. (4)
In other words, the more often you engage in regular and sustained physical activity while keeping cardiorespiratory fitness training as a top priority, you’ll have better control over your morbidity and mortality risk.
Whether you’re walking, jogging, swimming, biking, jumping rope, or participating in another form of cardio, you’ll be able to more easily perform activities of daily living (ADL) such as cleaning the house, and you’ll improve your overall health and wellness.