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12 Best Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss
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12 Best Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on 2022 September 1
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11 min

Certain exercises can help you burn upwards of ~450 calories, even in only 30 minutes of working out. But is burning calories enough to help you shed unwanted pounds?

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For many of us, our main goal for working out is burning calories and dropping pounds. 

Finding the best cardio for weight loss can make reaching this goal that much easier, but there are certain limitations that make certain exercises better than others, regardless of their calorie-burning potential. 

Keep reading to find out which cardio exercises burn the most calories and to get a better idea of which exercises match your particular level of fitness.

Is Cardio the Best Way to Lose Weight? 

Yes. According to studies, cardio or a combination of cardio and strength training will lead you to burn more calories and subsequently lose more weight than you would just doing strength training exercises.

But something to keep in mind is that strength training is better for increasing muscle mass, which contributes to higher amounts of calories burned, even when you’re not exercising.

For this reason, it’s best to do a combination of both cardio and weight training if you are trying to lose weight.

Is It Necessary to Do Cardio for Weight Loss?

No, doing cardio isn’t a necessary part of losing weight. Eating while maintaining a calorie deficit and increasing the number of calories you burn by doing other forms of exercise will also help you shed pounds and reduce fat. 

But, due to the high amount of calories that cardio can burn doing cardio in comparison to other forms of exercise, adding cardio exercises into your workout routine can lead you to see weight loss results faster.

Types of Cardio

Depending on where you are in your weight loss journey, using lower-impact exercises could be a useful way for you to limit the strain you put on your body while exercising and can be important in keeping you injury-free.

No-impact cardio

No-impact cardio exercises include things like cycling, swimming, and rowing. 

They are exercises that involve no jarring movements, limiting the stress on your bones and joints while exercising. This means they can be used even if you are not currently in optimal health. 

No-impact cardio exercises are perfect for anyone working through an injury or wanting to use cardio workouts to lose weight after a more sedentary period of their life.

Low-impact cardio

Low-impact cardio exercises are things like walking and using an elliptical.

These exercises help you experience the benefits to your heart and lungs you get from doing cardio exercise without the added strain to your joints you sometimes experience while doing higher-intensity cardiovascular exercise.

High-impact cardio

High-impact cardio includes popular cardio exercises like running and high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT.

These exercises often involve jumping and movements that have both feet off the ground simultaneously, followed by a sudden, jarring impact when they return. For this reason, they can negatively impact the knees and some of the bones in the lower body.

Although your body will continue to get stronger and adapt to the added stress, this process takes time. If you are prone to joint issues or are currently overweight, it’s important to be mindful of this extra stress and take things slow in the beginning until you’ve built up your strength.

12 Best Cardio Exercises That Will Help You Lose Weight

Adding one or more of these exercises to your training program can help you boost the number of calories you burn each workout and can contribute to you reaching all of your weight loss goals.

#1 Walking

Walking can be done on a treadmill or outside and is basically a step-down in intensity from running. Since it is a lower-impact activity, it is perfect for anyone who is currently overweight and looking to get back into regular exercise. 

It can burn a surprising number of calories, get the body moving again, and strengthen the bones, joints, and muscles, preparing the body for more intense physical activity.

Although going for a leisurely stroll will give you some of these benefits, it’s best to focus on faster-paced walking, which can give you a better cardiovascular workout and help you burn fat faster.

If you’re unsure of exactly how to structure a walking workout, downloading a walking app can help. 

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Walking can help you burn anywhere from 100 to 200 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and workout intensity.

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#2 Jumping rope

Jump rope is a great cardiovascular exercise comparable to running. It is an effective workout for strengthening your cardiovascular system and burning a high amount of calories, even during a shorter workout.

Although jumping rope is great for the heart, it is also one of the more high-impact cardio activities you can do. The fact that both of your feet leave the ground at the same time leads to a jarring impact with the ground on the way down.

If you are already in relatively good shape, jump rope can help you shed unwanted pounds, but it isn’t an ideal exercise for anyone who is currently overweight or recovering from an injury.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Jumping rope can help you burn anywhere from 260 to 390 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#3 Stair climbs

Since climbing stairs involves lifting your full body weight using one leg, it is an even better workout for building strength and burning calories than just simply jogging – though it tends to have around the same level of impact.

Stair climbing workouts are a common form of interval running that can be used in any running program to help build endurance and strength in the lower half of the body. Adding stair climbs into any kind of running program is also a great way to keep workouts feeling fun.  

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Stair climbs can help you burn anywhere from 230 to 340 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#4 HIIT workouts

Also known as high-intensity interval training, this kind of exercise is best known for its ability to burn a high amount of body fat even during a relatively short workout.

You can find HIIT workouts for almost every kind of exercise, though they often tend to be high-impact. Circuit training is a popular option, as well as running intervals specifically designed for weight loss.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

HIIT workouts can help you burn anywhere from 240 to 350 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#5 Cycling

Cycling is one of the lowest-impact activities you can do since there is no jarring impact, and you instead keep your feet on pedals that are always moving in a circular motion.

Anyone prone to knee injuries can use cycling to strengthen the knee muscles, creating more stability and support for the joint. These changes help prepare the body for more high-impact exercises like running. 

Having the option to ride a stationary bike indoors also makes this form of exercise accessible all year round.

If you plan to make cycling your main form of exercise, using an app can not only help keep your workouts feeling fun but also help you see results faster.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Cycling can help you burn 210–300 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and workout intensity.

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#6 Dancing

Dancing workouts can get your heart rate up and blood pumping fast. The more vigorously you move, the more cardiovascular benefits you will experience – most importantly, the more calories you can expect to burn.

Generally, these workouts incorporate more traditional gym movements like squats and walking jumping jacks but also include movement through the arms, making it a more full-body workout.

These workouts can be low or high-impact depending on the movements you choose to include, and best of all, they are fun and rhythmic, making them the perfect match for anyone who tends to find working out monotonous. 

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Dancing can help you burn 200–400 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#7 Tennis

Tennis can be played by yourself or against another player. Either way, running to the ball in combination with the full-body motions involved in swinging your racket is sure to help you work up a sweat and elevate your heart rate.

The amount of movement involved in tennis, paired with the need to be quick on your feet and agile enough to make sharp turns, make it a high-impact exercise and one that isn’t safe for people prone to things like shin splints or knee injuries.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Playing tennis can help you burn anywhere from 210 to 395 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#8 Hiking

Hiking involves around the same level of impact as walking, although it can be more beneficial than walking for burning calories and building muscle, especially if the hike involves inclines. 

Another benefit of hiking is that it can get you out of the city and into nature, which can lower stress and improve your mood, according to the American Psychological Association.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Hiking can help you burn anywhere from 170 to 250 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#9 Martial arts

Martial arts are things like karate, MMA, and jujitsu. Depending on whether you spend a class grappling or practicing technique, these training styles can be either a high or low-intensity workout.

Either way, it’s a full-body workout that can be used to build strength in all of the major muscle groups and effectively burn a ton of calories. Most importantly, they elevate your heart rate and are low-impact for your joints. 

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Martial arts can help you burn anywhere from 240 to 450 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#10 Rowing

Rowing can either be done on an indoor rowing machine or as a means to move you through a body of water on a boat.

Although it might seem that rowing is an upper-body-only workout, 65–75% of the movement actually comes from the legs. It also engages the core muscles to stabilize the body and also involves the arms, making it a full-body workout.

The use of most major muscle groups makes rowing some of the best cardio for weight loss, and since your feet remain planted throughout the entire movement, it is also low-impact.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Rowing can help you burn 210–295 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#11 Swimming

Swimming is a full-body cardio workout that has basically no impact on your joints since you are buoyant in the water while doing it.

If you are currently overweight and want to lose fat before taking on higher-impact cardio workouts, then swimming laps give you the opportunity to get in a high-intensity cardio session without putting any stress on your joints.

It also helps you burn more calories than many other low-impact exercise options available.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Swimming laps can help you burn anywhere from 300 to 420 calories during a 30-minute workout, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

#12 Running

Running is usually the exercise that first comes to mind when we think about cardio. Not only is it great for building cardio endurance, but it is also highly accessible to anyone who has a pair of running shoes.

Sprint workouts are high-intensity and will burn substantially more calories than running at a steady pace, but they’re not ideal for those who are overweight or recovering from an injury.

For a low-intensity cardio workout, you can try jogging, which is slightly different than running, less impactful for the joints, and still a great exercise for reducing body fat. 

Figuring out how to tailor your running workouts to help you burn fat fast without overdoing it can be difficult, especially for new runners. Using a personalized running plan can help you get the most out of your training while staying injury free.

How many calories can you expect to burn?

Jogging can help you burn anywhere from 180 to 250 calories during a 30-minute workout, whereas sprint workouts can burn closer to 450–670 calories, depending on your weight and the intensity of your workout.

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A Word From Our Coach

Using the most effective calorie-burning workouts to maximize the number of calories you burn while exercising might help you lose fat faster at the beginning of your fitness journey, but the reality is working out for a month or two, even if you burn 1,000 calories while doing so, isn’t going to give you lasting results.

In order to make real change, it’s important you create a workout schedule you can consistently show up for.

This means it’s less important for you to choose the best cardio for weight loss and better to find the funniest and most engaging cardio exercises.

Doing sprint or high-intensity cardio workouts might burn the most calories per workout, but if you don’t enjoy doing them, you might only be able to commit to one or two workouts a week, which won’t help you see much change.

If you can commit yourself to dancing cardio workouts, you might burn fewer calories each workout, but doing them every day will help you experience more weight loss while also increasing your muscle mass and creating a lasting routine.

Bottom Line

By now, you should have a better understanding of the number of calories you can expect to burn by doing some of the most popular cardio exercises. 

Hopefully, you’ve also taken the time to compile a list of all of the different workouts that sound most appealing to you.

Running and HIIT workouts are better for burning calories but also come at the price of being impactful on your knees, which can lead to overuse injuries if you’re not careful.

Walking and swimming, on the other hand, tend to be safer exercises, regardless of your level of fitness, and by either hiking or swimming laps, you have the potential to increase the intensity – and therefore the calorie-burning potential – of both exercises.

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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