It’s tough to know where to start when you want to lose weight, but you're on safe ground if you begin with regular cardiovascular exercise. Cardio activities raise your heart rate and help burn excess calories. Depending on your preferences and your physical condition, you can choose from low-impact activities such as swimming or riding a stationary bike, to more intense cardio forms, including running.

Among all types of exercise, cardio is unique for its particular weight-loss benefits. Most cardio activities burn comparatively more calories than their strength-training or flexibility counterparts in the same amount of time. Regular cardio exercise can also help you sleep better, feel more alert and energetic, and enjoy reduced risks for cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.

The American College of Sports Medicine has two basic recommendations for cardio exercise. The first suggests 30 minutes of moderate cardio five times per week, and the second recommends 20 minutes of intense cardio three times per week. Each is adequate for general health and weight maintenance. However, people who are trying to lose weight and elevate their fitness levels may need to exceed the basic guidelines and lengthen the duration of each workout, or choose to exercise on a near-daily basis.

Cardio workouts boast an astonishing variety of exercises. One of the most simple is brisk walking. It requires no special equipment except a pair of sturdy shoes, and it’s possible to do almost every day in any season and any location. Jogging is a level up from walking, while running is even more demanding and may require time off for the body to rest. Cardio workouts can also consist of exercise DVDs, aerobics classes, dancing and some calisthenics.

Cardio exercises range from mild to intense. More vigorous exercises burn the greatest number of calories, so they can be beneficial for weight loss, but they are typically best suited for people with high fitness levels. Organized sports, such as basketball, football and tennis, are some of the highest-intensity exercises that burn the most calories. You may need a day or two of rest between very intense cardio workouts, but in most cases it’s appropriate to do mild to moderate cardio almost every day.

Regular cardio exercise is an integral part of a productive and effective weight-loss routine, but it shouldn’t be the only part. The Cleveland Clinic states that the best weight-loss plans involve a balance of cardio, strength-training and flexibility exercises. If you mix all three types of workouts, you can do a bit of each type every day, or practice cardio for only a few days per week and do the other exercises on different days.

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