Exercise is key to promoting health and longevity, but fitting into our busy schedules can be a challenge.

As a fitness trainer, I see a lot of people trying to work out at least 30 minutes to an hour a day. That’s an excellent goal, but the minimum amount of exercise you need is actually less than you might think.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recommended amount of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for adults 18 years and older is at least 2.5 hours per week, or 21 minutes per day.

For people who want to exercise but are pressed for time, I always recommend cardio—exercises that get your heart rate and breathing rate up. It can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

If you’re new to cardio, here’s how to get started:

1. Get a heart rate monitor.

This is especially important when you’re just starting out so you know how hard your heart is working.

Ask your doctor if they have a recommended heart rate zone for you. If not, I recommend starting at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate (HR). This area is considered moderate intensity, which is recommended by the WHO.

Usually the formula is: Max heart rate = 220 – your age. For example, if you are 40 years old, your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute (BPM). Higher levels can put too much strain on your heart.

If you don’t have a way to measure your heart rate, aim for an intensity level where it’s difficult to hold a conversation but you can still speak.

2. Set realistic goals.

Many people think they need to set intense goals, exercise about five hours a week, or train for a half marathon.

But I see more success when you start with small, achievable goals, like walking 15 minutes a day. Big goals are great, but you have to break them down into bite-sized steps.

Once you’ve met your smaller goals for a week or two, gradually increase the duration and intensity of your exercise until you’re able to do at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio each week. The best workout is the one you can keep up with on a regular basis.

3. Do activities that you enjoy.

Skip the “Mill of Horrors”. Find activities that you enjoy and that fit your lifestyle. It can be anything from dancing to swimming to playing tennis.

I also recommend trying more than one thing to avoid boredom. Plan a variety of activities that you look forward to until it becomes a habit. This will help you stay motivated and train your body.

4. Find a training partner.

If you’re a social person, a partner can help you take responsibility and make the workout more fun. You can even join an adult sports team or recreational league if you want a community or team feel.

Starting a new exercise routine can be challenging, but it’s worth it in the long run. With consistency and dedication, you will soon see the benefits of cardiovascular exercise for your own health and fitness.

Stephanie Mellinger is a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, stretch and flexibility specialist, and nutritionist. She is also the founder of the fitness company Omnia Fit and an author for health day. Follow Stephanie on Instagram @omnia_fit_.

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