The 5 Most Common Cardio Myths, Debunked

The 5 Most Common Cardio Myths, Debunked

This is how and why it really works in your workout routine.

By Dana ZepedaUpdated 10 March 2020


Riding your Peloton Bike or Tread is a great way to get a heart-pumping workout. Not only can regular cardio sessions make you healthy and strong; they're also a fantastic way to relieve stress during hectic times. According to a recent report published by the American Heart Association, adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise to “lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia,” while children should get at least one hour of high-energy activity most days.

That said, not all cardiovascular exercise is created equal. Despite the overwhelming health benefits of incorporating more cardio activity into your daily routine, it is actually possible to get too much of a good thing. Here, Dr. Jared Bunch, a Salt Lake City, Utah cardiologist and member of the American College of Cardiology’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Section & Leadership Council, debunks 5 of the most common myths surrounding cardio exercise.

Myth #1: Cardio is the only workout you need

Truth: Completing a Century Ride is an impressive feat, but don't forget to add recovery days in between rides to meet your fitness goals. “Most people turn to cardio as an upfront strategy,” says Bunch. “However, many people become frustrated when they reach a plateau.To keep the muscle mass healthy, it is also critical to stretch and consider activities like yoga that can help with mind and body as a means to keep blood pressure lower and the heart healthier.”

Myth #2: It doesn't count unless you do cardio for at least one hour

Truth: Maybe you have back-to-back meetings at work or a sick child at home. Either way, squeezing in a quick workout – even just 15 or 20 minutes – is still well worth the effort on busy days. “Most people really need to just start moving,” says Bunch. “If you are inactive, start with 15 minutes a day. When you can do that, do it twice a day with a goal to increase to 60 minutes over time. I think a lot of people get discouraged if they don’t reach an idealized standard of 60 minutes a day, but every bit of activity counts.”

Myth #3: High intensity workouts are the best way to become healthy

Truth: You don't always need to PR to garner lifelong health benefits. Low-impact rides and Peloton yoga classes are extremely beneficial too. “In my practice, we often discuss exercising for a sustained period up to 60 minutes per day,” says Bunch. “In some athletes this is not acceptable and they want to exercise 1 to 2 hours or more a day and 3 to 4 or more hours on the weekend. Endurance athletes that spend long periods in the day cycling, running, swimming, cross-country skiing or a combination of any of these sports experience much higher rates of abnormal heart rhythms including premature atrial and ventricular contractions and atrial fibrillation. The people that are the highest risk are the fittest or those that participate and have the lowest personal times and greatest amount of races. Transitioning to enjoying the exercise performed at a moderate intensity and not always at a level to achieve a personal best can be helpful in lowering risk.”

Myth #4: Always do cardio first, then strength

Truth: You don't need to do cardio first for your workout to, well, actually work. “The order is less critical than what makes you feel comfortable and what is sustainable over time,” says Bunch. “The critical aspect to weight-lifting and cardio is to adequately prepare to do the exercise, which should include a warm-up. For some people that weight lift their cardio is that relatively less intense warm-up. However, in others, resistance training becomes the warm-up for extended cardio.”

Myth #5: Doing tons of cardio is always beneficial for your heart

Truth: Cardio helps keep your heart healthy, but it's still possible to get too much of a good thing. So always consult your doctor first before starting any new workout routine. “There is a misperception that more is more,” says Bunch. “When the body is constantly stressed, in particular the heart, it will adapt to that stress and often dilate and develop small areas of scarring that can cause both mechanical and electrical problems over time. In addition when someone is exercising and highly engaged in activity they may not feel ill or like someone they perceive that has health problems. When we realize that, it becomes easier to get appropriate screening for common diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and diabetes.”