10 of the Best Cardio Exercises for Weight Loss and Fitness

Participating in a cardio exercise is a super way to lose weight, build muscle, heart and lung capacity and improve overall health. There are numerous cardio exercises to choose from and the best one depends on what you enjoy doing. Since all cardiovascular workouts provide good health benefits, it’s important to perform one which you will stick with on a regular basis.

However, it is also good to change up your exercises in order to work out other muscles and to keep yourself from becoming bored by routine. Since various cardio exercises are seasonal due to the weather or can be replicated in the gym, it’s quite easy to practice several workouts over the course of a year.

1. Running/Jogging

Running, or jogging, has always been a great way to get in shape. You can run practically anywhere and the only extra equipment that is required is a good pair of running shoes. It also aids in the development of strong bones and joint tissue due to it being a high impact exercise.

Running also increases your heart rate rapidly and keeps it at a high rate for an extended period of time which is good for increasing your metabolic rate. When your metabolism is increased, you burn a ton of calories, both during the cardio workout and for hours afterwards. Running will burn around 300 calories over a 30 minute period and you can burn even more calories by adding hills or including periods of sprints throughout the exercise.

Running can be duplicated in the gym via a treadmill, although the exercise isn’t as beneficial due to the lack of terrain change and obstacles to maneuver around.

2. Walking/Hiking

Walking, like running, can be done practically anywhere and anytime without the need for additional equipment. Walking is different from running in that it is a low impact exercise which requires a bit more effort to increase your heart rate to a point where it will produce good fitness. However, there are several things you can do to make walking more beneficial for your health which, if done, will burn 180 calories on average over a 30 minute session.

When walking, resist the urge to take a casual stroll. Instead, pick up the pace and walk like you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and swing your arms as you go. The more body parts you involve in the exercise, the more calories you will burn. You can add hills or even head out across a forested trail which will provide more of a challenge due to the uneven terrain. Take along a pair of walking poles to get your arms involved.

Walking can be duplicated in the gym via a treadmill, but is less effective than the real thing.

3. Bicycling

Cycling is another great choice for cardio exercise because it can be done either indoors or outdoors, is low impact and easy on your joints and burns a lot of calories. Depending on the amount of resistance and how fast you peddle, bicycling can burn up to 500 calories in a 30 minute ride. Because most bikes today have multiple gears, you can change resistance regularly and really get fit and build endurance.

Cycling can be extra enjoyable and challenging if you get out and take routes that wind through the country or encircle a lake. You can also take advantage of it being a form of cheap and clean transportation and get in shape while going to and from work or running errands.

Cycling can be duplicated in the gym via stationary bikes. Spinning classes are another super cycling option that incorporates pumping music and various difficulty levels which are directed by the instructor. Spinning classes also provide the extra element of performing healthy cardio exercise in a social setting which makes pushing harder and getting in shape more fun.

4. Swimming

Swimming is not only a good cardiovascular workout, but is also fun and can be done in a variety of places. And, because you use both the upper body and lower body to propel through the water and can utilize a variety of strokes, you get a full body workout that exercises a large number of muscles.

Swimming is a super cross-training activity which can be done either outdoors or indoors. It burns a large amount of calories, although the total amount varies depending on the strokes used and the intensity of your workout. For example, swimming the breaststroke for 30 minutes will eat up roughly 400 calories.

5. Cross-Country Skiing

Another excellent total body workout, cross-country skiing incorporates the use of both upper and lower body to propel through the snow. A 30 minute session will burn over 300 calories which, of course, can be elevated further by altering your terrain.

Although cross-country skiing is best done outdoors during the winter months where you get the benefit of fresh air and gorgeous scenery, it can also be closely duplicated in the gym. A crosstrainer will give you many of the same exercise benefits, but it isn’t exactly the same.

6. Kickboxing

With the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts, kickboxing workouts have also become a fun fitness exercise. Kickboxing provides a total body workout because it requires the use of both lower and upper body through punches and kicks. The exercise not only burns a good amount of calories, but also increases coordination, quickness and muscle power.

Kickboxing exercises are mostly done in a class setting with director assisted move choreography.

Class workouts provide a lot of motivation for many people due to the social element. The distraction of being around others lessens the pain and increases competitiveness which causes you to workout harder and longer than if you performed the exercise alone.

7. Step Aerobics

This is another aerobic exercise that is normally done in a class setting with choreographed moves provided by an instructor. However, many videos exist now so that the exercise can be done from the comfort of home.

Step aerobics offers an intense workout without the hard pounding of other high intensity workouts which makes it a popular fitness exercise. Step aerobics is especially good for toning up the hips, legs and butt and consumes approximately 300-400 calories in a 30 minute high intensity session. You can also add more challenge to stepping by adding risers to the step platform.

8. Elliptical Trainer

This is a popular gym activity for cardio exercise because it allows the body to move naturally and it is often combined with treadmill workouts. Most elliptical trainer machines allow you to adjust the intensity and resistance for even better fitness abilities. You can also rotate your steps backwards which works the muscles in a different way as well as adding variety to your cardio routine. An average workout will burn around 300 calories over 30 minutes.

9. Rowing

Rowing is a good aerobic workout which benefits both lower and upper body due to the pushing off with your legs as you make the rowing movements. This multi-muscle workout helps to burn around 300 calories per half hour of rowing exercise.

Of course, rowing requires a rowboat, lake and good weather, but is a great exercise if you can do it outdoors. If you don’t have access to a rowboat, rowing machines are available at gyms and fitness centers and, like stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, they can be adjusted for more challenging workouts.

10. Jump Rope

Jumping rope is a good do-anywhere cardio exercise that gobbles up the calories. A full 30 minute session will consume over 300 calories, although building up to that length of time can take awhile.

Another positive aspect of jumping rope is that there are numerous jumping techniques which provide a broader spectrum of cardio activity and variety. You can double jump, triple jump, jump on one foot, cross jump, run while jumping and many more variations. The more variety, energy and difficulty you place in your jump rope workout, the more you will burn calories and enjoy greater fitness benefits.