Best Cardio Exercises for Losing Weight
Let’s face it, cardio is not something most people look forward to. Some dread it so much they just want to know what is the best cardio to burn as many calories as possible—they don’t want to pick an activity for enjoyment, nope— they just want to get the most out of every single miserable minute.
Then, there are others who love it so much they share every single picture of their cardio journey—whether it’s every mile they run or every milestone on their treadmills, they share, share, share. We call these people liars. Just kidding. There’s just a lot of envy up in here.
So, whether you’re the type that cringes at cardio or can’t wait to cardio it out, we’ve got a little bit of info on how cardio affects the body, how it affects weight loss, and the best cardio exercises to lose weight faster.
Cardio Uses the Aerobic System
Leotards with high hips, matching head bands and wrist bands. Puffy hair teased while borderline porn music played in the background—are you there? The 80’s aerobics tapes? Yeah you are.
You probably also recall the women breathing heavily in those vids, often with pursed lips to try to make oxygen consumption sexy. Gross. Now that we’re past that, let’s repress it and talk about cardio.
The original duck lips in these videos were triggered by aerobic system’s need for oxygen. That’s because it’s the fuel of aerobics which then triggers the aerobic chemical process of breaking down glycogen to use as energy.
This process is activated around 10 minutes after you begin your cardio. You might even feel ‘better’ after the first ten minutes because your aerobics system is kicking in.
The body begins using glycogen and fat as fuel. It is important to understand this process because it demonstrates the type of calories cardio burns versus anaerobic activity.
Weight lifting and HIIT training uses the anaerobic system-which means excess oxygen isn’t required. It burns more calories from carbs, while aerobic workouts burns calories from fat.
So, when you’re training and trying to lean out, you’ve likely heard cardio is necessary to fat loss. And it is. But if you overdo it, you could actually cause yourself to hold onto it and even create more because of cortisol.
Overtraining Can Result in Excess Cortisol
After about an hour of aerobic activity, the body responds to stress with cortisol.
Cortisol is released to prep the body for what it senses as danger. It releases glucose into the bloodstream to be used for energy and can be very helpful in times of trauma or illness. But if you regularly overtrain, you can trigger continued release of cortisol, which will actually stop fat loss and even create fat gain.
Continued exposure to cortisol release can lead to heart disease, obesity and brain malfunctions. Cortisol is typically released after 1 hour of cardio.
Now, with that in mind, we recommend you get in 30-60 minutes of cardio and also incorporate strength training to benefit from both types of exercise.
So let’s talk calories.
How the Body Burns Calories
To burn calories, you must increase oxygen consumption (as we laid out above in the aerobic system). It’s pretty simple.
- If you use more oxygen, you’ll burn more calories.
- The number of calories you burn is dependent on weight.
- More calories are burned by a heavier person.
- Using large muscle groups will use more oxygen, which will burn more calories.
*Larger muscle groups burn more calories because they are more effective at returning blood flow to the heart, which reduces the volume of blood pumped each beat, which increases heart rate and number of calories burned.
Cardio Exercises that Burn the Most Calories Per Hour
|Activity (1-hour)||Calories burned for 200 pound person|
|Running, 8 mph||1,074|
|Swimming laps, vigorous||892|
|Running, 5 mph||755|
|Football, touch or flag||728|
|Aerobics, high impact||664|
|Swimming laps, light or moderate||528|
|Aerobics, low impact||455|
|Elliptical trainer, moderate effort||455|
|Resistance (weight) training||455|
|Softball or baseball||455|
|Walking, 3.5 mph||391|
|Bicycling, < 10 mph||364|
|Walking, 2 mph||255|
Ainsworth BE, et al. 2011 compendium of physical activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011.
Bet vigorous swimming or running at a 8mph pace isn’t on your list of favorite cardio exercises, huh? But with this list you can at least make smart cardio decisions that will make the most of your time.