Is Cardio Good For Weight Loss


Cardio is generally considered as a good way to lose weight. It is far better than diet alone. When combined with aerobic or cardiovascular exercise weight loss results can be achieved in just 12 weeks. It has been shown that diet and exercise work hand in hand when trying to lose weight. Cardio is widely known as one of the most effective ways to burn calories and get rid of the unwanted fat from around your stomach, hips, buttocks and thighs. Cardio will train your body to become more fit and reduce those staight away from sugar, alcohol and refined carbs.

Is Cardio Good For Burning Fat?

Using a treadmill for cardio

Yes, cardio is good for burning fat and achieving a healthy diet.

However, it’s important to understand that there are different types of aerobic exercise, and they will impact your body and metabolism in different ways.

It’s also important to understand that scientific research indicates that cardio is more effective in getting rid of fat than strength training . What does that mean?

Essentially, you need to up the intensity levels regularly to avoid hitting a plateau or even weight gain.

The more intense you push your cardio sessions, the better the effect will be on fat reserves

Let’s look at some options.

What Type Of Cardio Burns Fat?

Cardio workouts using stationary machines

Highly intense cardio workout sessions will burn more fatty tissue, and there are a few ways to approach this

Cardio Machines

If you regularly head to the gym, then the easiest thing you can do is to try out a few different cardiovascular exercise machines.

The typical ones you’ll find are:

  • Treadmill
  • Elliptical
  • Rower
  • Stationary bike
  • Stair climber

Now, there is cardio that you do to improve heart health and general endurance. But the cardio you need to do for weight loss has to be a bit more intense.

And the last thing you want to do is a leisurely jog on a treadmill for 15 minutes, thinking that this will make a big difference.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT burns as many calories as a cardio machine, but it does this in a much shorter time frame This is something that suits many people who don’t have a huge amount of time to spare to go to the gym.

A typical HIIT session will combine cardio machines and resistance training, with the idea being that you push your body as hard as possible for 30 seconds and then take a short rest.

The more you push through different heart rates at intervals, the more calories you could burn to lose weight.

Steady-State Cardio

Using a rowing machine for cardio

This is typically a moderate-intensity or low-intensity cardio. For example, you might go for a run and never change your speed.

One problem with this approach is that people often go for multiple short runs.

This is less likely to help you lose fat as your body will first use glycogen and glucose reserves Only when those reserves are gone will you start metabolizing fat.

With just a few short runs, you won’t impact all that fatty stuff as you’ll burn fewer calories.


This is a form of HIIT that involves cardio and weight training to build up muscle mass and burn fat

The strength training isn’t necessarily designed to turn you into a bodybuilder shape.

But there is a heavy emphasis on burning more calories from fat to look lean and mean.

CrossFit gyms are a great way to get a maximum amount of effective cardio with instructor-led sessions to keep you on track.

How Does It Burn Body Fat?

Pinching body fats on belly

Cardio burns fat by first reducing the available energy stored in blood glucose and then forcing the body to burn more calories from other sources.

And the most readily available source when blood glucose drops is fatty tissue in muscles and around the thighs and the belly.

According to Harvard research, a 185-pound person could burn up to 440 calories in 30 minutes on a stationary rowing machine

That’s more than you have in glucose reserves, and when you row at a higher intensity, it will help to lose weight.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Training

There are two basic types of physical training: aerobic and anaerobic. To understand how our bodies lose fat during training, and to be better able to explain it to your clients, you need to know what these terms really mean, technically and practically.

  • Aerobic activity. Aerobic training requires the presence of oxygen. It is the type of activity that primarily works type I muscle fibers. This helps to increase muscle endurance and capillary size, and generally helps the heart muscle to pump blood more efficiently. Aerobic activity is done at a pace you can sustain for an extended period of time; think 50 to 70 percent of VO[2]max and a heart rate between 120 and 150 BPM: lower intensity jogging, swimming, or biking, for example.
  • Anaerobic activity. This is just the opposite of aerobic activity. Anaerobic training is exercise that does not require the presence of oxygen. It works the type II muscle fibers, which leads to greater size and strength of muscles. Sprinting until you gas out or resistance training with heavy weights is anaerobic. When you work at 90, to well over 100 percent of your VO[2] max performing anaerobic activity, oxygen builds up, lactic acid builds up, and you start to feel the burn.[1] You can’t sustain this kind of activity for extended time periods like you can with aerobic exercise.

LISS, Low Intensity Steady State cardio is aerobic activity, while HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training, is anaerobic. Before we answer the question of which is better, why do cardio at all?

Do You Really Need to Do Cardio to Lose Fat?

The quick answer is no. You do not need to do cardio exercise to lose fat. You can lose fat by restricting caloric intake, by doing resistance training, or by a combination of both.

The main factor in losing body fat is taking in fewer calories than you expend. Cardio can help you expend more calories, but is not absolutely necessary.

Restricting caloric intake is an obvious solution to fat loss. If you consume fewer calories, you will burn and lose more fat. But, what about resistance training? How does that help with fat loss?

Resistance training is one of the best ways to get lean because it builds muscle.[2] When you add muscle, you raise your resting energy expenditure (the amount of calories you burn when you’re just sitting still).

Muscle tissue requires more calories to function, even at rest, than fat tissue. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn per day.

Which Type of Cardio Maximizes Fat Loss?

Just because cardio isn’t necessary for fat loss doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Cardio has other benefits, especially for health, and can contribute to your calorie deficit. So, which is better, aerobic LISS or anaerobic HIIT?

A traditional outlook on cardio and fat loss is that a good, long, low intensity workout on an empty stomach will lead to the greatest fat loss. A long, slow run first thing in the morning is the go-to daily workout for a lot of people.

Views on this are changing, though, with research to back it up. What the current research tells us is that HIIT is a powerful way to lose fat, as compared to LISS training. Lower intensity aerobic cardio leads to less fat loss and may even hinder muscle growth, when compared to HIIT workouts

For example, one study found that fat oxidation, the use of fat molecules for energy, was significantly higher after six weeks of interval training. Carbohydrate oxidation, the use of sugar for energy, was lower. In other words, HIIT caused the body to target fat stores for energy, which means greater fat loss.

In another study, researchers compared individuals doing LISS for several weeks to those doing HIIT over the same time period. Fat loss in the HIIT group was up to nine times greater than in the LISS group.

One reason that may help explain the greater fat loss experienced with HIIT is that this type of exercise may increase EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. After a HIIT session, you continue to oxidize fat, more so than after a LISS workout.

Researchers have also found that HIIT workouts can increase the levels of growth hormone in the body, which also may contribute to fat loss

The importance of cardio exercise in weight loss, weight maintenance and good heart health

Cardio exercise reduces total body fat, and subsequently waist and hip circumference, which are important markers of health.

If the weather is hot, you can just take the stairs. Pawan Singh / The National
If the weather is hot, you can just take the stairs. Pawan Singh / The National

Cardiovascular (cardio) exercise is essentially any movement that increases a person’s heart rate to improve the body’s oxygen flow. It can be of lower impact or intensity, such as walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, or higher impact such as running or skipping. In any case, the importance of cardio exercise cannot be underestimated.

Dr Faisal Hasan, staff physician, cardiovascular medicine, Heart & Vascular Institute, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, explains: “Extensive inactivity can negatively affect one’s body and health. It slows down the body’s metabolism and affects its ability to regulate blood sugar and break down body fat.

“Inactivity and sedentary behaviour can also lead to reduced blood circulation due to compressed veins, and can affect the body’s blood-pressure regulation. This can lead to strokes, heart attacks or irregular heart rhythm. Cardio exercise helps boost heart health by aiding the body in controlling blood pressure and decreasing the likelihood of heart failure,” he says.

Cardio exercise reduces total body fat, and subsequently waist and hip circumference, which are important markers of health. Biologically, it improves the heart’s fitness and its ability to supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, allowing them to produce movement.

It also helps to increase HDL (high-density lipoprotein, also known as “good” cholesterol because it helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your bloodstream) and decrease LDL (low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol, which can eventually build up within the walls of your blood vessels, narrowing the passageways and leading to a heart attack or stroke). Increasing your HDL lowers the risk of heart disease, can improve blood glucose control and assist in weight loss. Both of these factors lower the risk of a heart attack.

In terms of how much cardio exercise is needed, Hasan says: “The American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association both recommend all healthy adults under the age of 65 either perform moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, for a minimum of 30 minutes for five days a week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as running or jumping rope, for a minimum of 20 minutes for three days a week. For optimum health benefits, it is recommended to combine the recommended cardio exercises with muscle-strengthening activities throughout the week.”

Your target training heart rate should be between 50 and 85 per cent of your maximum heart rate. This can be calculated as 220 beats per minute, minus your age (for example, the target for a 40-year-old is 180 beats per minute). But go gradually. When you start working out, aim for 50 per cent of your maximum heart rate. As you train for a longer period of time, aim to reach 85 per cent.

That said, our busy daily grind can easily distract us. The main challenge is to maintain the reasonable amount of exercise which is essential to our health. The best and most sustainable way to do this is to find ways to build an exercise regime into your daily life.

“There are a number of easy lifestyle changes people can make to get more active during the day,” Hasan advises. “Simple measures include walking a route you enjoy, taking the stairs, running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while watching TV.

“Cardio activity necessary to improving heart health can be added to everyday routine activities without interrupting them, and any amount of physical activity is beneficial.

“For example, you could park your car further away from your office, or get into the habit of taking 15-minute walks after you’ve eaten your lunch. If the weather is too hot, you could always do some window-shopping for 15 to 30 minutes at the nearest mall if it’s within reach.”

Can you use cardio for weight loss?

Generally speaking, our bodies need to burn more calories (our energy output) than we eat (energy input) in order to lose weight. 

Cardio is just one form of exercise that can help to contribute to our ‘energy output’. There are lots of types of cardio, such as walking, jogging and sprinting. Depending on what your fitness goals are, some types of cardio may be better suited to this than others. For example, if you want to focus on fat and weight loss, then Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio is a good choice. 

This is because walking burns the most fat per calorie when compared to jogging and sprinting. Maintaining a continuous, steady effort helps to raise your heart rate and improves your body’s ability to use oxygen properly. 

To put it simply, fat needs oxygen in order to be metabolised (or broken down) for energy. The lower the intensity of the exercise, the more oxygen is available to be used by the body to break down fat. When you are jogging or sprinting, less oxygen is available. Your body can’t easily use fat for energy with less oxygen available, so it uses other energy sources, such as carbohydrates, for energy. 

Choosing between cardio and lifting weights

As you can see, both weight training and cardio have their advantages. So, my answer to ‘what is best for weight loss: cardio or lifting weights’, is… both!

If weight loss is your goal, then cardio can be a great stepping stone for increasing your fitness levels and burning calories quickly. However, in order to achieve a toned, sculpted look, adding resistance training to your routine is important. 

Balancing weight training and cardio

In order to lose weight successfully, I recommend implementing a regular training program. My programs combine both cardio and resistance training to help you achieve weight loss and strengthen your muscles. Together, this helps to create definition and muscle tone. My programs are designed to offer variety and progression too — which means you are less likely to get bored with your exercise routine. When you’re putting in the effort, you want to continue achieving results without getting bored of your workouts.

Remember ladies, exercise is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to fat loss. Eating habits and lifestyle factors can also contribute to your weight-loss goals. Everyone is different, so find something that works for you.

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