Is doing cardio everyday a bad thing? Everybody knows about the dangers of weightlifting daily–focusing too much on tired muscles can lead to injury. But cardio is different. There’s an ongoing conversation about whether or not cardio exercises should be done everyday. Perhaps the answer lies in the intensity of the exercises done: studies show that even just five to ten minutes of cardio a day can substantially lower your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, heart attack, stroke, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lewy Body.
Let’s take a closer look.
Your Motivations Matter
There are plenty of different reasons to engage in cardiovascular exercises. And your reasons for doing cardio will determine whether or not you should be doing it everyday.
Are you striving for excellent aerobic fitness? You have all the right fitness gear? Performance-enhancing fitness socks? Fitness shoes? High-performance apparel? If the answer is yes, you’re probably a serious athlete, training for competitions – 5ks, 10ks, etc – and entering not so much for the satisfaction of completing them, but with the intention of winning. In that case, you’ll likely be running six to seven days a week.
If you’re looking to lose weight, you shouldn’t be doing cardio everyday. This may seem counterintuitive, but hear us out. For those looking to lose weight, especially substantial weight, you should engage in cardio exercises roughly five days a week. This gives you at least two days to rest and recover. It also helps you avoid plateauing.
The above advice applies also to those seeking to improve cardiovascular health – like people who were maybe former smokers or at higher risk of stroke or heart attack.
The Pros and Cons
Based on studies performed by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), active adults can gain optimal benefits in numerous ways.
For those looking to lose weight or improve their cardiovascular health, an hour and 15 minutes of mildly intense aerobic exercises a week can be highly beneficial. Consider “mildly” intense workouts as “comfortably hard,” where you’re engaged at a rate that’s difficult but you can still maintain a conversation throughout. However, for the best benefits, you should also add in a few minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercises.
In time, you’ll find that you can continue that comfortably hard aerobic exercise regimen, but increase it to two and ½ hours a week without the need to have any high-intensity workouts added.
If you’re looking to compete, you’ll have to step it up a few notches. A five-hour a week high-intensity workout schedule can be beneficial for devoted runners.
However, the ODPHP notes that it’s still safe to engage in physical activities beyond the five hours and that the addition of strength-training exercises should be added two or more days a week to increase your gains.
By their calculations, someone who does seven hours of physical activity is still in a “safe zone” where they’re increasing their health without a major risk of injury. Those seven hours can be spread out throughout the week over the course of three or more days.
Currently, there is no known “upper limit” where you would stop receiving physical benefits from aerobic exercises.
The Benefits of Doing Cardio Everyday
Like weightlifting, cardio workout provides enough diversity in exercises and the ability to focus on different muscle groups to allow you to make gains.
You can add to your workout regimen a vast array of exercises beyond running. Cross-training exists for a reason: to help you increase your gains by continually working out loose and receptive muscles without endangering them.
To safely do cardio daily, limit yourself to 30 minutes of it a day. Of course, that comes out to three and a half hours a week. You’re well inside the healthy range but can still add more to your workout regimen.
Keeping to low-impact cardio exercises like swimming, biking, Zumba, and yoga can help you break through plateaus safely. They’ll keep you from the repetitive motions of your usual cardio exercises, allowing for focus on other muscles that can help you in your fitness journey. They do this by increasing flexibility, oxygen flow, and strengthening both established and otherwise ignored muscles without overtraining.
The reason we’re pushing low impact cross-training cardio exercises is that daily cardio activities greatly increases the chance for injury.
While the ODPHP allows for seven hours of physical activity a week, these seven hours don’t consist only of cardio. Instead, they consist of a mix of cardio, weight-training, cross-training, and a variety of exercises meant to bring you to your physical potential.
You might be wondering how marathoners do it then – and that’s a great question. The answer is that, even if it sounds crazy, running too much actually does have a ton of negative effects on the body.
The Disadvantages of Doing Cardio Everyday
Endorphins are a great thing. That release is a wonderful high, and it’s hard for runners and cardio enthusiasts not to chase that dragon as often as possible. This leads to increasing the intensity of workouts and increasing the number of days a week you do these aerobic exercises. Unfortunately, it can result in numerous problems.
One of the most obvious is injury. This comes from over-training. While you may often have tweaks and pains–they’re your muscles letting you know you’ve been doing a good thing – chronic injuries that result in substantial and ongoing pain are damaging to the muscles and not signs that you’ve simply had a great workout. When you overtrain, your sleep schedule will suffer, causing increasing fatigue, mood changes, depression, and changes in appetite.
If the depression doesn’t eliminate your appetite, it might increase it due to overexertion of your muscles – they’ll need to be replenished. While you might be on a stringent diet, it may not matter. The body might go into “compensation” mode, taking in extra calories from your food to feed and attempt to restore the muscles that are likely being strained, potentially causing weight gain in the process while reducing the amount of lean muscle you have.
Your body’s metabolism will slow because of the lack of lean muscle. You’ll potentially gain weight from this, but the solution to doing too much cardio isn’t doing yet more. Your body needs two things besides a decent cardio schedule: diverse workouts to engage muscles in different ways, and rest.
The Benefits of Rest Days
The clock is moving, the day is wearing on, but you’re sedentary. You’re half-watching something on Netflix or dealing with Sunday Scaries. Most likely, you’re bored. Telling an active person to take it down a notch, especially when you feel like you can still go is painful, but it beats the pain of injury and the frustration of unnecessary weight gain. To many, rest days are a burden, a bore, a waste.
But they’re necessary.
When you work out, you cause small tears in your muscles, causing pain. Your body responds by rebuilding the tears stronger than before, causing muscle growth. The body needs between 46 and 48 hours to completely rebuild. Without that off-time, you’re only compounding damage, not building anything back up.
Then, of course, is the damage done to your tendons. They’re the tissue that connects your muscles to your bones. Every time you move, so do your tendons. However, regardless of their importance, blood doesn’t flow to them easily. Damaged tendons take longer to heal. When they’re overused – especially in repeated motions like your constant cardio routine – they can become inflamed. Consistent overexertion can lead to more severe cases to tendinitis. In many cases, it can be treated at home with an icepack on the inflamed area. In some cases, physical therapy or surgery can be needed to repair the damage. You can end up being forced into taking weeks or months off while recovering from tendinitis.
Finally, we come to the bones.
While it’s true that cardio is actually great for your bones, the impact that running has on your feet, ankles, knees, and hips stress bone tissue. Similar to your muscles, the stress forces the body to repair the tissue stronger than before. Again like muscles, it needs time for those repairs to completely heal. Taking a day or two off is better than taking a season off with a stress fracture.
Do you take rest days, or are you doing your workouts all seven days a week? If you are taking rest days, where are they in your schedule? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.