Does Cardio Really Help Burn Fat?

What is Cardio Exercise? 

Most know that cardio has something to do with exercise and that it's healthy, but there's a lot of confusion about whether it burns fat or muscle. Since cardio exercise requires a lot of energy or calories, it has acquired a reputation for burning muscle mass, too. To determine whether or not this is true, let's first break down what cardio is and how it helps burn fat.

Cardio is the fitness term for cardiovascular exercise, which includes any activity that elevates the heart rate and respiration. Additionally, cardio exercises use the largest muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically.

Cardio fitness is vital for improving and maintaining optimal function of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise on five or more days of the week to maintain healthy levels of fitness.

Though cardio has such an enormous impact on overall health, it's helpful to understand the different types of cardio so you can choose the activity that best suits your goals.

Understanding Different Types of Cardio 


The great news is that regardless of fitness level, there's an ideal cardio workout routine for everyone. Let's take a look at the different kinds of cardio, ranging from low-impact exercise to athletics and sports.

Low-Impact Cardio


Any aerobic activity in which at least one foot is always in contact with the ground is known as low-impact cardio. However, don't be fooled; low-impact doesn't mean it's easy on the cardiovascular system. Rather it means those activities don't involve jumping or movements that place hard impact – wear and tear - on your body.

Low-impact cardio training is weight-bearing, so it's excellent for bone health and cardiovascular and respiratory conditioning. Walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, hiking, cycling, and even swimming (the exception to the both feet on the ground rule) are all popular forms of low-impact cardio exercise. Low-impact cardio is ideal if health conditions or injuries require you to avoid excessive pounding and jarring on the body.

High-Impact Cardio


Some of the most all-time favored cardio exercises fall into the high-impact category. An exercise is high-impact when both feet leave the ground at some point during the activity. This includes but isn't limited to running, high-impact aerobic exercise, jumping rope, and various types of weight training and strength training. High-impact cardio is weight-bearing, tends to burn more calories and fat, but does put greater impact on the bones and joints.

High-impact cardio routines are successful because they are high-energy and get your feel-good endorphins pumping to keep you coming back for more.

Athletic Cardio Activities


Many athletic activities involve a significant amount of cardio as part of the game. For example, hockey, soccer, and basketball all require a lot of cardio. But other sports, like volleyball, require very little. Athletes usually supplement their sports training with cardio exercise along with weight training to improve and maintain peak fitness levels.

Participating in a favorite sport is an incredible way to include cardio in your overall fitness plan.

But is cardio exercise ideal if you want to lose fat and strengthen your muscles?

Does Cardio Burn Muscle or Fat?


If you've previously struggled to burn fat and lose weight with strength training alone, then regular cardio exercise is your solution.

Generally speaking, cardio activities in the low to moderately-high range burn carbohydrates and stored fat simultaneously. Under normal circumstances, you're at no risk for burning muscle by doing cardio exercise.

Carbohydrates are required for the body to burn fat. Therefore, the body only turns protein from muscle tissue into sugar in extreme circumstances – for example, if you're exercising for hours without refueling with carbohydrates.

Your carbohydrate stores might be depleted and your body in danger of burning muscle if you feel light-headed or dizzy. So, if you plan to engage in intense cardio exercise for over an hour, refuel with carb-rich snacks like bananas or dried fruit during your workout.

With the understanding that cardio burns carbohydrates and fat but not muscle, how does cardio help burn fat efficiently and quickly?

Cardio That Burns Fat Better and Faster


It turns out that recent research has proven that not all cardio workouts are created equal. With mounting scientific evidence that certain cardio activities are more effective at burning fat than others, fitness enthusiasts are flocking to what torches the most calories and fat. And it's called interval training.


Interval training consists of workouts that include short bursts of high-intensity exercise in the fat-burning zone followed by resting or recovery phases. Studies show that interval training, also known as high-intensity interval training or HIIT, burns more fat in a shorter time than a long low-intensity cardio session. Researchers also found that interval training produces high levels of a chemical called catecholamines, responsible for increased fat burning.


Simply put, if you're adding cardio to your routine to burn fat and calories or to lose weight, then high-intensity intervals are the way to go.

Additional Health Benefits of Cardio Exercise 


In case fat burning and weight loss isn't enough motivation to include cardio in your fitness plan, here are some additional key benefits. Cardio exercise:

  • Maintains a healthy heart by improving cardiovascular health.    
  • Improves mental health by increasing endorphins.        
  • Improves blood circulation and toxin elimination.        
  • Strengthens the immune system.


With all of those health benefits plus significant fat burning, it's an easy decision to add cardio to your fitness routine. Following are six of the best and easiest-to-implement low-impact and high-impact cardio activities.

The 6 Best Fat Burning Cardio Exercises 


No matter your fitness level, these cardio activities are optimal for strengthening, calorie-burning, and fat loss. They can be done at low-intensity or turned into a high-intensity workout by including intervals of all-out effort.



Since walking is already a daily activity, it's rarely taken seriously as exercise. However, walking is an excellent calorie and fat burning activity that can be done anywhere with just a good pair of shoes. This low-impact cardio exercise is estimated to burn between 300-400 calories an hour. Walking at a brisk and moderately-faster pace to get your heart rate up will effectively burn more calories and fat.

Do you only have 30 minutes to walk? Then intersperse one to two-minute bursts of speed or go uphill to transform your walk into a high-intensity interval workout. Alternate your bursts of speed with a slower pace to allow your heart rate to recover.


Canva - Man Running on Side of Road

Running is a high-impact cardio activity as accessible as walking. At a moderate pace, running burns an average of 500 calories an hour, or about 100 calories per mile. It builds muscular endurance while toning the hips, glutes, legs, and abdominals.

Are you looking to ramp up your fat-burning in a shorter amount of time? Add in a flight of stairs, and you've got a high-intensity cardio workout for maximum calorie burning. It's estimated that, on average, running up and down the stairs for 10 minutes burns 191 calories. In other words, make stair running your high-intensity interval training, and you've got some major fat and calorie loss happening.

Kettlebell Workouts

Canva - Person Holding Black Kettlebells

Would you like a high-intensity workout plus strength training combined? Then pick up a Kettlebell.

A Kettlebell is a cannonball-shaped weight that starts at 18 lbs to 26 lbs, but increases depending on fitness level. Kettlebell workouts combine weight training with cardio for a complete workout and the greatest calorie and fat use, burning up to a whopping 20 calories per minute. Though the “swing” gets the most credit, Kettlebells can be used with a wide variety of movements like lunges, lifts, and squats. Kettlebell workouts simultaneously build cardio endurance, strength, muscle mass, balance, and flexibility.

You're guaranteed to melt more fat in a shorter amount of time with an intense Kettlebell workout.

Jumping Rope 


Did you know that jumping rope burns more calories an hour than running? Using up an average of 600 calories per hour, jumping rope is one of the simplest and best cardio exercises for fat burning and weight loss. This high-impact, plyometric cardio activity helps build bone density, strengthens the legs, and improves cardiovascular health.

Jumping rope can be combined with other high-impact activities like jumping jacks, split jumps, and box jumps to create a calorie-scorching circuit routine.



Cycling is a low-impact but high-energy cardio activity that's estimated to burn an average of 400-600 calories per 45 minutes. Cycling improves heart health, strengthen the leg muscles, and utilizes loads of calories. If outdoor cycling isn't your thing, you can always join an indoor cycling class or get on a stationary bike.

Don't have 45 minutes to ride? Throw in some high-intensity intervals to ramp up your calorie and fat burning.



A boat and a body of water aren't necessary for this low-impact but powerful cardio and strength training exercise. Using a rowing machine is estimated to burn 500 to 600 calories an hour. Rowing strengthens the biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and abdominals. In other words, rowing is an all-in-one muscle strengthening and cardiovascular workout.

Melt away calories and fat, build endurance, and strengthen your cardiovascular and respiratory systems by adding these proven cardio activities into your fitness routine.

Getting the Most out of Your Cardio Workouts 


The best cardio workout routine is the one that you love and that keeps you coming back for more. Here are a few tips for creating a successful cardio routine to get you in extraordinary shape.

Choose a cardio activity that you enjoy. Nothing is worse than dragging yourself out of bed to do something you hate. Therefore, your cardio activity should feel satisfying to you. Whether you enjoy steady repetitive activity like running or cycling or the variety of a Kettlebell workout or aerobic dancing, if you love it, you'll keep doing it.

Increase your difficulty level gradually. Start at a pace you know your body can handle and work up your intensity level from there. Once you've mastered a cardio activity, then try adding in high-intensity intervals one to three times a week.

Vary your workouts and recovery days. Going high-impact all the time is a recipe for burnout and injury. High-intensity interval training should total no more than three workout routines per week. Alternate your high-impact activities, like jumping rope, with low or no-impact activities like cycling to prevent excessive stress on the body.

Always warm up, cool down, and stretch. Warm your body up for higher intensity cardio with 5 to 10 minutes of low to moderate activity. Conclude your workout with a cool down for at least 5 minutes to reduce your heart rate and ample stretching for all the major muscle groups.

Liven up your fitness routine or weight training by creating new cardio workout routines. Want even more ideas for cardio workouts to help burn fat? Visit the Zoid Academy to get a variety of cardio exercises for optimum fat burning and weight loss.