What's the Best Cardio for Weight Loss: Evidence and Science-Backed

Published on: February 26, 2019

What's the Best Cardio for Weight Loss: Evidence and Science-Backed

If you’re about to start a weight loss journey, cardio training is the best solution. Cardio exercises raise your heart rate which puts your body in a fat burning mode. The best cardio for weight loss can be done at home or the gym. Figure out what works for you based on your schedule, budget, and motivation.

Ready for some killer cardio? In this guide, you’re going to learn everything about cardio exercise -- what it is, its advantages, how it helps with the keto lifestyle, and a list of cardio workouts. Dig in.

What Is Cardio?

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is defined as any activity that requires more oxygen, is repetitive in nature, and engages your large muscle groups [1]. These muscle groups include:

  • Legs: Quadriceps, Calves, Hamstrings
  • Abs: External and Internal Obliques, Rectus and Transversus Abdominis
  • Chest: Pectoralis Major and Minor
  • Arms: Biceps, Triceps
  • Back: Trapezius, Latissimus Dorsi, Transversospinalis

As the name goes, cardio exercise boosts the ability of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to effectively supply oxygen throughout your body. This is known as cardiopulmonary fitness (cardio – heart, pulmonary – lungs) [2].

Cardio exercises are done at a light or moderate intensity. Light and moderate intensity activities at a sustained effort facilitate aerobic metabolism. You can go on and on without experiencing fatigue. One of its major effects is weight loss.

The opposite of cardio exercise is anaerobic exercise. Such exercise does not require oxygen, is performed at a higher intensity, and builds muscle strength.

Benefits of Cardio Exercise

1. Boosts weight loss

A study on 141 obese or overweight individuals aged 18-30 years revealed that burning 400-600 calories per session, 5 times a week, results in a significant fat loss. It didn’t matter if the participants were males or females. The cardio exercises they did were walking, jogging, and motor-driven treadmills [3].

You get energy through the foods you eat (energy in). You expend energy through physical activity (energy out). One of the ways to expend energy is a cardio workout.

It’s important to remember that to achieve weight loss, your energy intake should not equal energy expenditure. This means that you need to burn more calories than you consume [4].

Some people who do the best cardio to burn belly fat also follow a ketogenic diet. The reason is that keto helps them maintain a high level of physical activity and go long periods without craving carbohydrates for fuel.

2. Blood sugar control

Exercise is often overlooked as an intervention to control blood glucose.

Whether you have diabetes or are at risk for developing it, all types of exercise, including cardio exercise, are capable of lowering your blood glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetic patients benefit from at least 10 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise spread throughout the week. If you want additional health benefits, consider increasing your exercise to 30 minutes on most or all days of the week [5].

So how do cardio exercises improve your blood sugar health? When your skeletal muscles contract, such as when you move your limbs and the rest of your body, blood flow increases. This boost in blood flow allows glucose to enter your cells without the help of external or supplemental insulin [6].

3. Reduced risk of heart disease

Do you have a sedentary lifestyle? You have it if you spend the majority of your days doing little to no physical activity. Certain activities are also considered sedentary such as reading, watching television, and using your mobile device [7].

The problem with living sedentarily is that it increases your odds of getting heart disease. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is largely responsible for the deaths of men and women in the United States. It’s also predicted that 25 million deaths worldwide will happen in 2020 due to CVD.

One of the best free ways to prevent CVD is by engaging in cardio exercises. Such exercises boost your cardiorespiratory fitness.

Since exercising for the long term is most beneficial to your health, find ways to make it more enjoyable. Leisure cardio workouts at home or anywhere include gardening, walking, and hiking [8].

4. Lowers your stress

Is stress responsible for weight gain? Yes, it is. While stress pushes you to work harder and be more resilient, too much of it (a.k.a. “chronic stress”) is detrimental to your weight.

Chronic stress is often social in nature. It may involve work stress, poor self-esteem, or relationship issues. Chronic stress affects your lifestyle and food choices.

According to a study, many people who feel stressed tend to crave comfort foods. These palatable foods are high in calories and sugar [9].

Cardio exercises reduce stress by releasing feel-good hormones known as endorphins. This is why after running, people report experiencing “euphoria” [10]. We can say that to be able to lose weight, one needs to manage stress through exercise.

5. Gets rid of DOMS

Ever felt sore the next day after going beast mode at the gym? We describe this as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS for short. People who engage in a type of exercise for the first time are prone to DOMS.

While you can take an analgesic medication to reduce muscle pain and stiffness, exercise is the most effective way to diminish DOMS [11].

Engaging in a low-impact cardio exercise still increases your heart rate, which promotes blood flow to your affected muscles. This increase in blood flow removes lactic acid, a substance responsible for muscle soreness. Instead of completely resting for days when you experience DOMS, engage in active recovery [12].

The faster you can recover, the better you can sustain your fitness program for weight loss.

How Long Should I Do Cardio Exercise?

The World Health Organization advises adults to aged 18-64 to engage in a moderate aerobic exercise 150 minutes a week.

If you want to be healthier, increase it to 300 minutes a week. Another option is to still hit the 150 minutes per week mark but make your aerobic workout more intense [13].

There are many ways to achieve the recommended times for exercise. You can exercise in short bouts of 10 minutes throughout the day every day of the week, or spend 30 minutes each day,
for 5 days.

New to cardio exercise? Beginners should take it easy by starting small. Doing so allows you to build momentum until you can challenge yourself more. If you’re out of shape, don’t expect your physique to transform overnight. Consistency is key.

Can I Do Cardio While on Keto?

Yes, you can incorporate cardio into a keto lifestyle. If you follow a ketogenic diet because you know that it helps you meet your weight loss goal, exercising on keto hits that goal faster.

Let’s recall that the ketogenic diet trains your body to become adapted to using its fat stores for energy. To do that, it requires you to drastically limit carb-rich foods and increase healthy fatty foods.

A person who follows a standard diet gets his energy mainly from glucose. Glucose is the end result of carbohydrates after they’re broken down by your digestive system.

Study shows that a very low carbohydrate diet leads to greater fat oxidation during exercise [14]. Furthermore, being fat adapted enhances exercise performance. A study was done on 20 male endurance athletes. After 12 weeks of sticking to the keto diet, their performance increased [15].

Here, we can see that exercise helps with keto and keto helps boost exercise.

10 Best Cardio Exercise Effective For Weight Loss

Now that you know that cardio burns fat, you’re probably wondering which exercise brings optimal results. Below, we discuss the ten best cardio exercises to do at home and the gym.

Home cardio exercise

Some people find home cardio workouts appealing. They can skip monthly gym fees, save time traveling, and avoid feeling intimidated by crowds. Here’s our list of the best cardio for weight loss at home.

1. Jumping jacks

Jumping jacks are a simple and fun cardio exercise that works your upper body and lower body muscles. It’s not just a home workout. You can perform jumping jacks while you’re traveling or having office work breaks.


Jumping jacks require no prior experience to be performed correctly, which is why they appeal to everyone.

This exercise also strengthens your bones. One study examined the effect of jump training on the bone structure of 80 rats. The result revealed that it increased bone mineral density [16].


No equipment required.


Jump as many times as you can in 5 minutes. You will burn 45 calories.


You can do jumping jacks daily. Perform this exercise on its own or include it in your everyday workout routine for variation.

How to do it

1. Stand with your feet together. Put your hands to the sides of your body.

2. Jump, spread your legs apart, and bring both your hands above your head.

3. Jump once more, bring your hands down, and your legs together. Return to the starting position.


1. Start with a few reps and increase them over time. 30 reps is a good start.

2. Jump as lightly as possible.

3. Engage your core to get an ab workout as well.

2. Mountain climbers

If you want to get more powerful in running, mountain climbers are for you. They’re a killer workout that immediately boosts your heart rate as you try to stabilize your body while you perform a running motion in a plank position.


Giving you a complete body workout in a few repetitions, mountain climbers target your arms, shoulders, chest, and leg muscles. They’re quite tough to perform for beginners because one has to maintain proper form to get the most out of the move.

Not only will mountain climbers keep your heart healthy, but they also build your strength.


No equipment required.


Go as fast as possible for 60 seconds to complete one set. Perform at least 3 sets.


Mountain climbers make a good daily workout.

How to do it

1. Begin in a plank position.

2. Your hands should touch the floor, shoulder-width apart. Your legs should be straight with toes touching the ground.

3. Bring your right knee to your chest.

4. Make a switch by placing your right knee back to the starting position and bringing your left knee to your chest this time.

5. Switch knees again.


1. Don’t forget to breathe.

2. Maintain a straight line from your head to your toes.

3. Don’t overextend your neck. Keep it straight similar to the line of your entire body.

3. Burpees

There’s no doubt about it -- burpees are an intense cardiovascular exercise. Burpees are also a functional form of training in that the movements are closely related to your activities of daily living [17].

Burpees do not only help you lose weight, but they also improve your flexibility, balance, and posture. In case you’re wondering, burpees were invented in 1939 by a physiologist named Royal H. Burpee. The exercise used to be part of a fitness test.



No equipment required.


Beginners can get started by doing as many repetitions as possible in 30 seconds.


Since burpees are a full-body exercise, you can do them daily.

How to do it

1. Start in a standing position with your hands on your sides.

2. Squat down and put your hands on the floor just in front of your feet.

3. Put your feet back so that you’re now in a plank position.

4. Jump your feet forward, behind your hands.

5. Jump explosively into the air.


1. Go slow and steady. Decide on a pace that you can maintain.

2. Tighten your core for a more effective workout.

3. Consider warming up first to achieve to keep your movements smooth and controlled.

4. Jump rope

The jump rope exercise may look plain and simple, but it provides many surprising benefits. One is that the jump rope boosts your balance and coordination. No wonder why young athletes, soccer players, perform it in their training sessions [18].


If you have weak shoulders, arms, and legs, jumping rope will strengthen them over time. The best part? It’s a fun exercise for all ages.


Jump rope. If you want an added challenge, get a weighted jump rope.


Do as many reps as you can in 10 minutes. You will burn about 135 calories.


Jump rope makes an excellent daily workout. You can do it alone or add it to your regular program.

How to do it

1. Hold the handles of the rope in each hand.

2. Make sure that the entire length of the rope hangs behind you.

3. Swing the rope over your head.

4. As the rope approaches the front of your feet, jump over it.

5. Repeat the entire movement.


1. Move your wrists. Don’t swing your arms and shoulders.

2. Choose a length that correlates with your height.

3. Land on the balls of your feet.

4. Jump lightly.

5. Find a rhythm that works for you.

5. High knees

High knees strengthen and up your legs. This cardio exercise burns so many calories at a time since you’ll be doing it at a fast pace. Imagine running in an exaggerated way.


Basic high knees without arm movements are great for beginners. Whether you stick with the basic move or do a variation, what’s important is that you lift your knees as high as you can.


No equipment required.


Do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds.


High knees can be done as part of your daily workout routine.

How to do it

1. Stand straight with your feet hip-distance apart.

2. Bring your right knee up to your chest, then quickly switch to the left knee.

3. While your legs move, swing your arms in a way that synchronizes with the opposite leg.

4. Repeat.


1. Keep your core tight to support your back.

2. Land on the balls of your feet.

3. Open up your chest.

4. Breathe naturally.

5. Have fun with it!


Gym cardio exercise

Doing cardio at the gym has several perks. One is that being in a gym setting is motivating because you get to be around other people. Also, machines make your fitness routine more efficient. Check out the best cardio for weight loss at the gym below.

1. Elliptical

Also called a cross trainer, an elliptical trainer gives you a low-impact workout. Meaning, it won’t stress your joints and will reduce your chances of getting injured.

Because you’ll be moving your arms and legs, an elliptical will work the upper and lower muscle groups of your body. At the same time, elliptical exercises improve knee function [19].


Elliptical machine


30 minutes of using an elliptical machine will help you burn at least 170 calories.


Workout each day for 5 days a week.

How to do it

1. Step onto the machine. Make sure that each foot is firmly planted on the pedals.

2. Hold each handle.

3. Start pedaling at an even pace while your hands swing the handles.


1. Increase the resistance if you want a more challenging workout.

2. Changing the resistance every time prevents you from reaching a plateau.

2. Treadmill

Whether you want to prime your body for running workouts or simply want to burn fat, exercising on a treadmill is a great idea.

A study conducted on chronic stroke survivors proved that high-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise boosted cardiovascular function. After training on a treadmill 3 times a week for 3 months, the participants were able to increase their walking distance as well as their oxygen consumption rate [20].




Run or walk on a treadmill for 15 minutes. Increase it to 30 minutes eventually.


A moderate-intensity treadmill exercise should be done three to five days a week. If it’s high-intensity, keep it twice a week.

How to do it

1. Get on the treadmill.

2. Hold onto the handles for balance.

3. Adjust the settings when necessary.


1. Wear the right shoes to safeguard your heels from the impact of each step.

2. Don’t increase the incline for long periods to avoid hurting your muscles.

3. Maintain a good posture. Keep your spine straight.

4. Relax your body while walking or running.

3. StairMaster

The StairMaster exercise is excellent if you want to get a good lower body workout. It also works your core. If you don’t have stairs at home which you can use for exercise, your nearest gym might have this piece of equipment.

Unlike the regular staircase, a StairMaster can be adjusted to your fitness level. Adjust the speed and resistance to burn more calories in one session.

It’s also a low-impact exercise which means that it won’t cause stress on your joints.

Warm up your body for 10 minutes on the StairMaster, and add 15 minutes while increasing your speed. You get a total of 25 minutes.





Do it each weekday. However, you might want to switch things up to prevent boredom or hitting a plateau.

How to do it

1. Get on the machine and rest your hands on the side rails.

2. Keep your back straight and just lean forward a bit.

3. Take deep steps.


1. If you want to work your glutes and legs harder, add a bit more resistance.

2. Look straight ahead. Avoid doing anything else such as reading.

4. Stationary bike

A stationary bike workout is often compared to a treadmill. When it comes to burning more calories, you would get more out of a treadmill because it moves your entire body. However, a stationary bike is easier on the joints for people with bad knees.

On top of weight loss, a stationary bike improves your muscular endurance and lowers your stress. According to a study on elderly women, this exercise also enhances gait and balance [21].


Stationary bike


Pedal for 30 minutes. A longer workout will burn more calories.


You can use a stationary bike daily. To get a full body workout, consider supplementing it with other workouts.

How to do it

1. Sit down on the bike.

2. Put your feet on the pedals.

3. Start pedaling.


1. Warm up before the exercise to avoid stiffness in your legs.

2. Adjust the seat according to the height of your hips.

3. If you want a tougher workout, increase the resistance so that it seems like you’re running uphill.

4. Alternate between light pedaling and intense pedaling rather than keeping it steady.

5. Rowing machine

What most people don’t know is that the rowing machine is one of the best cardio for weight loss. Rowing is basically a combination exercise as you have to work your upper and lower body simultaneously. It targets major muscle groups such as the shoulders, arms, legs, and core.

A study showed that indoor rowing significantly decreases fat mass, body weight, as well as one’s cardiovascular risk [22].

Row for 20 minutes in a day.


Rowing machine



While a rowing machine can be used daily, start rowing 3-4 times a week.

How to do it

1. Secure each foot to the foot plate and grab the handles with both hands.

2. Use your quadriceps and glute muscles to push the foot plates.

3. Lean back and bend your elbows to pull the handles close to your chest.

4. Return to the starting position by pushing with your feet first.


1. Check the settings before you use the machine. Beginners should start at a lower setting.

2. Keep your back straight and relaxed.

3. Start with your legs when moving. Don’t move your arms and legs at once.

4. Make sure that your hands completely wrap around the handles.


Cardio exercises raise your heart rate and promote blood flow to your muscles. It’s a powerful way to burn fat. What’s more, there are so many available exercises that don’t wear out your joints and move your whole body.


  • Cardio exercises engage your large muscle groups.
  • WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of cardio each week.
  • Include cardio in your ketogenic lifestyle to increase weight loss and achieve other health benefits.
  • Whether you workout at home or the gym, always maintain proper form.


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