Performing cardiovascular (cardio) exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage your body weight, better your health, and improve your overall fitness levels. In fact, as little as 30-45 minutes of daily cardio can help stave off unwanted weight gain and substantially lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and countless other chronic diseases.

Though the optimal amount of cardio exercise varies widely from person to person, there are some basic tactics that can improve the overall quality of your workouts.

First off, it’s especially important to choose cardio exercises you’ll actually enjoy.

Truth be told, you’ll experience significant health benefits regardless of the type of cardio you choose to perform. The choice really comes down to your personal fitness goals, preferences, and lifestyle.

For instance, if you’re trying to lose weight, cardio equipment like treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stair climbers are excellent for burning calories and shedding excess body fat. These machines also offer various settings, modes, and preprogrammed routines that’ll allow you to constantly switch up your workouts and maximize your results without getting bored.

But, you’re certainly not limited to cardio machines.

There are tons of cardio exercises that can be conveniently performed in the absence of machines. Such exercises include outdoor walking, jogging or biking, hiking, recreational sporting activities, group exercise classes, and much more.

Related Article: Three Surprisingly Unique Benefits of Outdoor Exercise

No matter which types of cardio you choose, it’s also critical to monitor your exercise intensity and implement progressions in your workouts. 

For long-term weight management and continuous improvements in your health and fitness levels, you should regularly increase your cardio intensity (how hard you work) and/or duration (how long you work out). In general, you can perform high-intensity exercises for a short duration while exercises that are less intense should be performed for a longer duration.

It’s also important to gradually implement progressions so that the amount of work you perform during cardio sessions always exceeds the normal demands you place on your body.

If you’re looking for some real results, you’ll have to put in some real effort.

For instance, if your goals are centered on losing weight, 30 minutes of leisure walking (2.0-2.5 mph) just won’t cut it, as you won’t burn a sufficient amount of calories. But, if you walk at a more moderate pace (3.0-3.5 mph) for 30-45 minutes or even at a 1-2% incline when using a treadmill you’re adequately progressing and will, over time, burn the calories necessary for achieving your weight loss goals.

Related Article: Target Heart Rate: Are You Working Out Hard Enough?

Regardless of the intensity, time or type of cardio exercise it should be performed often and varied regularly.

At the end of the day, infrequent bouts of cardio will do you more harm than good. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain a weight loss, or improve your heart health, it’s important to perform at least 3-4 cardio workouts each week.

And, while it’s great to have a cardio exercise routine, it’s not good to have routiness in your cardio exercise.

Be sure to implement a variety of activities so that you don’t get bored. For example, if you regularly walk on a treadmill, try new activities like biking, rollerblading or swimming. You should also break away from ‘traditional’ exercise on occasion. Go for a 4-mile hike or play a game of tennis. Such activities are equally as effective as structured exercise.

Adding variety will also increase your workout motivation and progress. Unbeknownst to many, muscles have memory cells that may become unresponsive if they’re not occasionally shocked with a change in routine.

Related Article: Why You Need to Change Your Exercise Routine Regularly

Finally, recovery time is the most important yet overlooked component of a good cardio routine.

After a hard day of exercise, give yourself an easier training day or rest day to help permit adequate recovery. So, if you engage in a highly intense bout of running on Monday, follow that up with a low-to-moderate-intensity elliptical workout or weight training session on Tuesday.

If you choose to have a full rest day instead, opt for ‘active’ rest as opposed to simply doing nothing at all. You can rest actively by going for a leisure bike ride, performing some housework or even going out dancing.

Related Article: Five Interesting Ways to Exercise Without Exercising

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Cardio exercise is an absolute must for weight management and overall good health. Follow these basic guidelines to develop an effective cardio exercise program and be sure to go for activities that are most enjoyable so that you’ll stick with them.

Related Article: 5 Cheap and Convenient Ways to Burn Fat Fast