Before you create your workout schedule, it's important to know how much exercise you need for optimal fitness. Training for a marathon isn't required, but a begrudging 30-minute cardio workout a week isn't enough either.
According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you need to do two types of physical activity each week to improve your health — aerobic and muscle-strengthening. Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity — or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups each week.
Moderate-intensity aerobic activity is brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground with few hills and pushing a lawn mower. Moderate activity will get your heart rate high enough that you break a sweat.
Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is jogging, running, swimming laps, playing singles tennis and playing basketball. Vigorous activity will significantly raise your heart and respiratory rates so that you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
One minute of vigorous activity is equivalent to about two minutes of moderate activity.
Do a variety of cardio activities each week to keep from getting bored with your workouts, to reduce your risk of repetitive-stress injuries and to help you achieve optimal cardio fitness.
Whether it be on your smartphone or a pocket calendar, schedule your workouts and rest days for each week ahead of time. Aim for 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week and two days of full-body strength training workouts.
Monday: 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity, such as power walking, elliptical or Spin class.
Tuesday: 20 minutes of a full-body strength training routine, circuit training or Body Pump.
Wednesday: Rest day or a yoga, Pilates or stretching class.
Thursday: 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity, such as jogging, hiking or swimming.
Friday: 20 minutes of a full-body strength training routine, circuit training or Body Pump.
Saturday: 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity, such as power walking, rowing machine or stair climbing.
Sunday: Rest day or a yoga, Pilates or stretching class.
If cardio is not your favorite workout, mix up your cardio sessions to include different activities. For example, do 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 minutes on the stationary bike and run/walk stairs for five minutes. You can also break up your cardio throughout the day by doing two or three 10-minute mini-workouts.