Have you ever thought to yourself, “is cardio necessary to achieve my goals?”
You’re not alone.
In this post, I am going to argue why cardio is not necessary for heart health, fat loss, or toning.
I will also provide 5 convincing reasons why I don’t do cardio, and why it might be a waste of your time.
Let’s get started.
What Is Cardio?
First things first, it is important to note that in this article, I am referring to low intensity, steady-state cardio.
Steady-state cardio is any type of aerobic exercise that is performed at a low intensity for a prolonged period of time. Typically, it is done anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour.
For example, these are the type of cardio workouts where:
- you put a towel on the treadmill screen so that you don’t know how long you are actually running for.
- Or where you put your iPad on the elliptical and just watch TV while you work out.
We have all been taught to believe that cardio is necessary for health, weight loss, and fat burning.
Thankfully that is not the case.
Is Cardio Important?
If cardio is THE ONLY form of exercise that you do, then it is very important for overall health.
However, cardio is less important if:
- you live an active lifestyle on a day-to-day basis, and
- you do the things that I mention below.
Remember, I am referring to slow-steady state cardio sessions where you just mindlessly spend a large amount of time on a treadmill or an elliptical.
So now let’s talk about all the reasons why you might be doing cardio in the first place.
Is Cardio Necessary For Heart Health?
Everyone knows that cardio can have a lot of health benefits, especially for your heart.
There is no denying that.
Performing low-intensity steady-state cardio can and will make the heart more efficient.
We can see this in high-level endurance athletes, who have very low resting heart rates.
Cardiovascular training allows your heart to pump more blood throughout your body with each heartbeat. As a result, it does not need to beat as often.
A low resting heart rate is a marker of aerobic fitness, but is it actually necessary for health?
Research shows that improving your aerobic capacity is very beneficial for your health. Improved aerobic capacity has been associated with
However, the good news is that these benefits are not exclusive to cardio.
There are other methods of improving your heart’s efficiency that does not involve spending countless hours on the treadmill.
Therefore, slow steady-state cardio is not necessary for health. Contrary to popular belief, cardio is not king.
*With that said, not all cardio is created equal. We have written an entire post on The Best Form of Cardio For Weight Loss [The 15 Minute Workout] in which we go over the benefits of high-intensity interval training, aka HIIT.
Is Cardio Necessary To Lose Weight?
Let’s be honest.
Many of you aren’t doing cardio for your cardiovascular health. A lot of people don’t even care about their heart.
The reason why so many people do cardio is that they think it will help them lose weight.
The thought process is that running for a long time will burn a lot of calories, and therefore you will be in a calorie deficit.
If it truly were that easy, then no one would be overweight.
The truth of the matter is, you cannot outrun a bad diet.
Eating calories is WAY EASIER than burning them off.
There just isn’t enough time in a day to do all the steady-state cardio necessary to actually burn a significant amount of calories.
One hour on a treadmill can burn anywhere from 300-500 calories, depending on your size and how fast you are running.
If you ask me, 1 hour is too long of a commitment to just burn 400 calories. You could find several drinks at Starbucks that have more calories than that.
I go over this in more detail in Diet Vs Exercise: What Matters More?
- Cardio without a dedicated eating plan is a recipe for failure. You will be wasting your time. Period.
- You are far more likely to lose weight by monitoring your calorie intake than by doing cardio.
- To get the best results, you must eat fewer calories and improve the composition of those calories.
Is Cardio Necessary For Abs (or Toning)?
The short answer is no.
Cardio is no more effective at helping you tone your body than it is at helping you lose weight.
In order for you to develop visible abs and improve your body composition, you need to decrease your body fat percentage. This is primarily determined by your genetics.
Cardio can help you lose body fat, but only if these prerequisites are in place:
- You clean up your diet and minimize your consumption of low-quality foods
- You increase your lean muscle mass percentage through strength training
- You keep your cortisol levels in check (by improving your sleep quality)
Therefore, it is probably in your best interest to maximize these three pre-requisites before you decide on which season of the Walking Dead you are going to watch while you are on the elliptical.
5 Reasons Why I Don’t Do Cardio
Now that we have covered why cardio is not necessary for the reasons you may think, here are the top 5 reasons why I don’t do cardio.
1. The Human Body Isn’t Meant To Do Long Distance Running
This one is controversial.
We can go back and forth arguing whether or not the human species was meant to run long distances.
But here’s my take.
1) Evolutionarily speaking, humans run for one of two things – to catch their prey, or to avoid being a snack.
Every time you run, you are activating the “fight or flight” response. It is a highly stressful event that is directly tied to survival.
Now, answer this question.
If you had to hunt your food (or avoid becoming food) do you think that you would be running at a steady pace for 30 minutes to an hour?
No, of course not.
You would bolt at maximum speed towards your prey or, away from your predator. Oftentimes, these would probably be in short spurts that don’t last much longer than a few minutes.
In other words, we were designed to move quickly, over short periods of time.
This is what sprinting or different types of HIIT workouts attempt to mimic.
2) Secondly, if humans were meant to run long distances, then we shouldn’t experience the high rates of injury that are associated with running.
Long-distance running is associated with way too many repetitions.
Think about it.
A slow and steady run that lasts 30 minutes is thousands of repetitions of high-impact landings on your knees, ankles, and hips.
If you run 30 minutes every day or every other day, then think about the amount of wear and tear your joints are receiving on a daily basis.
This is especially true for people who run with bad form.
When was the last time you checked your running form and made sure it was optimal?
Running with bad form for thousands of repetitions is your one-way ticket to shin splints, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, hip arthritis, and more.
2) You Lose Your Endurance Fast
Anyone who has improved their endurance significantly knows that in order to keep that level of fitness, you have to keep running, A LOT.
If you were to stop running for a short period of time, your body quickly becomes de-conditioned and your endurance starts to go back to its baseline at a rapid rate.
Stop running for long enough, and you might be back at square one.
With that said, if you are a seasoned athlete and have been running for years, then your aerobic capacity will be slower to regress, but that just isn’t the case for most of us.
The same is true for really bulky muscles.
If you stop lifting heavy weights and eating for muscle, then your body will quickly get rid of any excess muscle mass.
Your body will, however, hold on to a certain level of strength and a certain level of muscle mass for much longer periods of time, as your survival is directly tied to your ability to move.
3. Running Can Eat Up Your Muscle Mass
If you do excessive cardio with little to no strength training, you will begin to burn through your muscle tissue.
As we just mentioned above, running triggers your body to go into a “fight” or “flight” response.
Both are associated with increased levels of stress and elevated cortisol levels.
Cortisol will shunt blood flow from the gastrointestinal tract (to slow digestion), and increase blood flow to the muscles (so that you can continue to run).
This is so that your muscles can obtain the necessary oxygen and nutrients to keep producing force for 30-60 minutes straight.
In order to feed the muscles, your body will use up whatever resources it has to keep you going.
First, your body will use up glycogen, which is basically stored sugar in your liver and in your muscles. Once all of the carbohydrates/sugar gets used up, your body will start to use up fat and extra muscle mass.
Which do you think is preferable?
Muscles are very expensive to carry. It burns through calories just for maintenance, which is why people with more muscle automatically have a higher metabolism.
As a long-distance runner, you need all of the calories you can get just to keep yourself moving.
Having any expensive tissues in the body (aka muscle mass) will be counterproductive.
In addition, runners need to carry the least amount of weight possible, because any extra mass will hinder your running capabilities. Another reason to shed any extra muscle mass.
If we take two extreme examples, we can see the marked difference between many marathon runners (very thin with little muscle mass) and sprinters (solid and very muscular).
The primary differences between marathon runners and sprinters are determined by two things:
1. Genetics: Thin people will naturally be better long-distance runners, therefore they gravitate towards endurance sports, and
2. Training: Sprinters primarily focus on strength and explosiveness aka (HITT) which increases muscle mass and decreases fat storage.
Is it possible to perform low-intensity steady-state cardiovascular exercise and not lose muscle mass?
Yes, but why waste your time doing this extra work when you can use the strategies outlined below?
4. Cardio is Unbelievably Boring
Anytime I have been on a treadmill, it seems like I experience Albert Einstein’s time dilation from the theory of relativity.
It feels as if I have been on the treadmill for 30 minutes and when I look down it has only been 5.
I just can’t stand being in one place doing anything but running or cycling on the stationary bike.
I’ve even seen people bring their iPad to watch TV shows during their cardio workout.
Running outside can help relieve some of the boredom, but why do it at all if cardio is not necessary for any of the benefits we have been taught to believe.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I rather enjoy my workout and not die of boredom when I am supposed to be physically active.
By the way, did you know:
How much you enjoy exercise is the biggest predictor of being able to stick to it consistently?
5. Similar Benefits Can Be Derived From Walking
So what can you do instead of cardio to derive similar benefits?
You simply need to walk more.
Say what you want, but there is absolutely no argument against the fact that humans were designed to walk.
Evolutionarily, we were nomads, constantly moving from place to place.
Walking keeps your heart pumping, maintains a nice fluid circulation throughout your body, and strengthens your bones. It doesn’t cost a thing and you can do it wherever you are.
It’s also the most basic form of exercise that most people fail to master.
Why do people run when THEY DONT EVEN walk?
To get the most benefit, you should take a brisk walk every single day. Multiple times per day if you can.
Check out The Powerful Benefits of Walking for Weight Loss to find simple ways to incorporate more walking into your routine.
And the second thing you should do is resistance weight training.
Cardio Vs Weight Lifting
The second thing that you can do to get the same benefits of cardio is to perform REAL resistance training.
I’m not talking about bicep curls and shoulder raises.
I mean performing real functional exercises.
- Performing large range of motion compound exercises
- Using enough weight where you fatigue doing 6-12 repetition
- Keeping your rest periods short to maintain an elevated heart rate
Using these 3 strategies, you will maintain an elevated heart rate, which will increase oxygen consumption and metabolic activity.
This is the best way to improve your aerobic capacity while building muscle simultaneously.
Lifting weights will also keep your basal metabolic rate elevated even after you workout!
Why not kill two birds with one stone?
So do I need to do cardio if I lift weights?
That’s NOT the message I want you to take away from this post. Lifting weights alone isn’t enough.
You still want to improve your aerobic capacity in some regard.
The bottom line is this:
You don’t need to spend a boring hour on a treadmill to do it.
Think about it.
A 1-hour workout is only 1/24th of your entire day. You cannot expect a 1-hour gym session to compensate for being inactive the other 23 hours of the day.
That’s why it’s important for you to incorporate some movement into your daily life.
The easiest way to do it is to take a 15-minute brisk walk every single day:
- after work
- after your workout
- on your rest days
- after a big meal
Or you can do some HIIT sessions once or twice a week.
So Is Cardio Bad?
Don’t get me wrong. Cardio is not bad.
If you love cardio, and you do it as a hobby, or you do it because you love the way that it makes you feel, then, by all means, keep doing it.
You are already ahead of the majority of the population.
But if you are doing cardio because you were led to believe that it is necessary for weight loss or because you thought you had to, then you should probably reconsider.
You are much better off spending your time doing resistance training.
Or if exercise isn’t your thing…
Diet is much more important than exercise is in terms of health and fat loss. But as I’m sure you are aware- diets are even more confusing and controversial than cardio is.
That is why we designed the WCT Compound Diet. It is a collection of the best of the best nutritional guidelines from each and every diet out there.
It is designed in a way to teach you how to build healthy eating habits slowly, and one step at a time.
Studies have shown that people do better when they have a step-by-step system that provides guidance and takes the guesswork out of eating.
Final Words On The Importance Of Cardio Exercise
So there you have it, 5 reasons why I don’t do cardio, and why you don’t need to either.
Instead, I suggest that you increase your activity levels via walking, strength training, and occasional interval training.
Now tell us what you think.
Are you Pro Cardio or Against Cardio ?
Do you perform cardio training because you were told it was necessary for fitness or weight loss?
Comment below and let us know.
Related Cardio Posts:
- How To Start Working Out Effectively & Efficiently
- The Best Type Of Exercise For Weight Loss [The 15 Minute Workout]
- Diet Vs Exercise: What Matters More?
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.