Cardio is never the most fun part of working out but highly necessary for weight loss. If you are going to go to the effort of doing cardio, then make the effort a good one. I often see people reading books or magazines while doing cardio. As a general rule, if you can read while doing cardio, you are not working hard enough…at an appropriate intensity level to really burn a good amount of calories and get your heart rate going.

My husband I were at the gym the other day doing cardio. We started to talk about how slow or fast we should go. You may have heard that exercising at a slower pace is more effective for fat loss than working out more intensely. Many cardio machines even have “fat burning” programs that keep you at a slower pace. But this can be very misleading.

During low-intensity aerobic exercise, your body does use fat as its primary fuel source. However, and this is key, picking up the pace allows you to burn more total calories, as well as more fat calories. The most important factor in exercise and weight control is not the percentage of fat calories burned, but the total calories burned during the activity. The faster you walk, bike or swim, for example, the more calories you use per minute, and you will be burning more total calories, and in turn, will lose more weight.

Here’s how: If you go walking for 30 minutes at a leisurely roll, you might burn about 100 calories — about 80 percent of them from fat (so that’s 80 fat calories). But if you spend the same amount of time running, you might burn 300 calories — 30 percent of them from fat (that’s 90 fat calories). So at the fast pace, you burn more than double the calories and 10 more fat calories. Which is better for weight loss? Burning 100 calories or 300 calories (in the same amount of time).

Keep in mind; if you can’t sustain a faster pace long enough to make it worth your while, a slower pace will allow you to exercise longer, so you’ll end up burning more calories and fat that way. So you need to find a good balance, and change it as you gain more endurance. As your endurance increases, your intensity must increase. For the best weight loss results, you should try to complete at least 15 minutes of your cardio exercise at the most vigorous pace you can. 30 minutes is even better.

There are all sorts of formulas for figuring out your target heart rate and then using that number to calculate your desired intensity. This is another area where my eyes start to glaze over a bit…. One of my favorite websites for advanced training makes this question easy for you to answer on an individual basis without having to figure out all those numbers and continually take your heart rate. has a great chart .

As you can see, this “formula” is based on how you feel, not a bunch of numbers. Don’t get me wrong, finding out your target heart rate is important, but for me, this is a better guide and easier to use on a consistent basis, especially as I gain more endurance, and strength. It also takes into account how I am feeling on low energy days and high energy days.

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