Does your exercise routine live and die by the treadmill? Does your workout consist of an hour on the elliptical? While you can’t ignore the positive impact aerobic exercise has on your health, it may not be the dream weight-loss solution you hope for.

“It seems an awful lot of people walk, jog, run and cycle on a regular basis, hoping the time spent on the treadmill, bike or trail will equate to drastic weight loss results,” says Paul Kriegler, registered dietitian and nutrition program manager for Life Time Fitness. “There’s a fair amount of research on how much cardio is best for realizing health benefits, but there are a few factors that could be compromising those benefits for you.”

You’re doing cardio, but moving less throughout the rest of the day.

Think about this: you wake up early, get to your health club and work hard for a solid hour, spinning your legs until they feel like jelly. A puddle of sweat surrounds your bike and your heart rate monitor says you burned 950 calories. That’s great, until later on, you forgo your normal walking break because you feel too worn out. And later that evening, you catch a nap before dinner rather than walking the dog or mowing the lawn. People often justify inactivity in the hours after a strenuous workout. Most experts recommend getting the majority of your movement throughout the day instead of condensing it into one particular segment.

You’re doing too much cardio.

The health benefits of cardiovascular training appear to begin after around 30 minutes of moderate intensity four to five days per week, totaling around 150 minutes. When it comes to cardio, more isn’t always better, especially if you don’t give your body time to recover. According to an article titled “Effect of the volume and intensity of exercise training on insulin sensitivity,” published in the September 2013 edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, opting for long, frequent sessions is often less effective than shorter, higher intensity. Doing long sessions of cardio, more than 60 minutes, is rarely necessary unless you’re training for a specific event. Another observational study of recreational joggers suggest you’re better off capping your strict cardio time at 30 minutes and including several days per week of resistance training.

You think cardio means “I get to eat extra calories without consequence.”

While exercising to burn off some energy may give you a little room for forgiveness, exercising to prepare for poor eating habits doesn’t guarantee you results. In fact, according to a study in PubMed, large amounts of cardio training have been shown to induce compensatory eating patterns, especially in women. It’s easy to get into this mindset, but exercise is far more than just a way to expend calories. Well-planned, properly executed bouts of activity can stimulate your body to go through incredible changes, but not if you’re using food as a reward.

All your cardio sessions are the same.

Cardio can be helpful for getting a little solitude or zone out time, but doing the same workout every day when you’re looking for results is definitely not the answer. A good exercise program incorporates variability from one workout to the next. Your body has a few major energy systems, and they all need to be challenged over time. Try an Active Metabolic Assessment to scientifically determine your most efficient heart rate zones so you can exercise smarter.

High Intensity Interval Training Cardio on an Empty

Good morning, time for boot camp or hill sprints; while skipping breakfast…

Not so fast. You probably heard that fasted cardio training first thing in the morning is excellent for fat loss, and that interval training generally beats out steady-state cardio training. Put two and two together and it’s sure to be the most unbeatable cardio program ever, right? No unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way. Most bodies need to have glucose to burn as fuel in order to exercise at such high-intensity levels. Attempting fasted sprints is a recipe for disaster. Not only will your performance suffer, but you could be setting yourself up for lean muscle loss and injury.

Cardiovascular exercise may promote a positive mood, better cognitive function and reduce diabetes risk, but only if you do it right. Take these factors into consideration the next time you lace up your gym shoes and hop on the nearest cardio machine. Always consult with your physician prior to any new fitness program.

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