When you’re in top cardio shape, everyday activities like walking up a flight of stairs, chasing after your kids while playing outside, and hauling groceries from the car to the house feel less daunting. This is because your heart, lungs, and entire cardiovascular system are in optimal condition, making it easier to engage in physical activities such as these.

So, how do you get in this type of top cardio shape, making life’s pleasures and chores a little easier to handle physically? Here are some tips:

  • Do something physical every day. The best way to build your cardiovascular system is to use it…daily.
  • Think about variety. While it may be tempting to pick just one activity like walking or the elliptical and stick to it, the more different activities you do, the better it is for your cardio system.
  • Mix up the duration and intensity of your cardio sessions. To make the most of your cardio sessions, you want some to be short and intense while others should be longer and less taxing on the body as you receive heart-based benefits from both.
  • Do interval training a couple days a week. Research shows that varying the duration and intensity within one single exercise session helps improve your cardiovascular system and lower your blood pressure, making this style of training great for your heart.
  • Eat heart healthy foods. In addition to exercising, eating foods that are good for your heart, like salmon, berries, and nuts, helps enhance your cardio health as well.
  • Stay hydrated. Your blood is 92% water, so one way to improve your cardio condition is to make sure you drink enough water to help this particular system function at optimal levels.

Any that I’ve missed? Feel free to add it in the comment section below!

6 Tips For a More Intense Cardio Workout

Cardio workouts are important for heart health and are also a must do if you’re trying to slim down. Whether you’re running, swimming, hopping on a bike, or taking a cardio class, incorporate these six tips to get more out of your heart-pumping sessions.

  1. Include sprinting intervals: By alternating between a few minutes at a moderate pace and throwing in bursts at a faster pace, you’ll burn more calories, build endurance, and become faster and stronger. Not to mention, intervals are also proven to reduce belly fat.
  2. Use those arms: Many forms of cardio are all about the legs, so when possible, maximize your cardio time by focusing on working your arms as well. Swing them while running (don’t hold on to the treadmill or elliptical handles), get creative with your arm strokes while in the pool, and don’t forget to use them while in your Zumba or other cardio class instead of resting them by your sides.
  3. Lengthen the duration of your workout: Most cardio workouts last between 30 or 45 minutes, so burn more calories by pushing yourself a little longer. Check out how many extra calories five minutes of cardio burns.
  4. Incorporate strength training: The main focus of cardio workouts is to burn calories through high-intensity movement, but you can also use this time to strengthen your muscles. To target the legs and tush, incorporate inclines on your runs, bike rides, and hikes. When in the pool, utilize the resistance of the water to tone your muscles by using webbed gloves.
  5. Do more than two types of cardio a week: In order to build overall body strength and endurance and to prevent repetitive stress injuries, it’s important not to do the same type of cardio all the time, such as running. You’ll get even more out of your cardio workouts if you include at least three different kinds each week.
  6. Make it harder: Aside from adding inclines, find other ways to make your cardio workout more challenging. Stand instead of resting your tush on the seat when on your bike, run with high knees, try the more advanced version of the move your fitness instructor is demonstrating, and do the more intense butterfly stroke instead of the crawl. Remember that compared to the rest of your day, this workout is only a short time, so give it your all.

More from FitSugar:

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Cardio Exercise Definition and Benefits

Cardio exercise is any exercise that raises your heart rate. Face it our bodies were made to move. And we all know that to keep our muscles in shape we need move them. This movement makes them stronger and stronger muscles make for a more efficient and healthy body. Your heart is a muscle. Therefore working it makes it stronger. A stronger cardio-vascular system means more capillaries delivering more oxygen to cells in your muscles. This enables your cells to burn more fat during both exercise and inactivity.

Cardio exercise uses large muscle movement over a sustained period of time keeping your heart rate to at least 50% of its maximum level. Are your workout intense enough? Your Target Heart Rate can answer that question. To obtain your Target Heart Rate check out our calculator at https://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/target-heart-rate.

Some of the Best Cardio Workouts Are:

Walking – This is the easiest and safest way to start getting in your cardio.

Elliptical – Minimal impact on the knees and hips but calorie burning is still high. When you increase the incline you will activate more muscles.

Running – This one is easy to understand. Just remember if you train like a distance runner you will look like a distance runner. If you train like a sprinter you will develop a sprinters body. Steading running burns calories but sprints take it to the next level.

High Intensity Interval Training – Short intervals at maximum intensity followed by short periods of rest. Best all around workout that burns fat and calories. Find a program here: https://www.healthstatus.com/high-intensity-interval-training/

Bike Riding or Cycling – Cycling uses large muscle groups in the legs and helps elevate your heart rate. This one is great you can do it inside or outside, with your kids, or even over the internet in your own home.

Stair Climber – Uses more muscles than walking.

Jumping Rope – Cheap, easy and burns tons of calories. If you remember doing this for hours as a kid you will be surprised at how exhausted you will get now.

Swimming – This is a total body workout as long as you are not just floating – even treading water burns calories. Swimming laps would be best and change up the strokes you use so that you work all different kinds of muscles and the continuous pace works your heart and lungs.

Rowing – Works both the upper and lower body and is low stress on joints and ligaments.

Circuit Training – When you work out at a high intensity the blood starts to pump a lot harder and that challenges the elasticity of the arterial wall.

If you want to not only work your heart but want to build muscle continue with your exercise routine and add in some weights.

Want to know how many calories you are burning? Go here: https://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/cbc

If you can’t finish a sentence while doing your workout you are going at it too hard. If you are having no trouble talking step it up. You need a minimum of 20 minutes of continued elevated pulse to get the best results at least 3 times a week.

If you find you are super tired or unusually sore back off the intensity or take an extra recovery day. The goal is to feel better not overdue.

American Heart Association Recommendation

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150OR

At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activityAND

Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

For Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week

Benefits of Cardio Exercise:

Weight Loss – All exercise burns calories. A deficit caloric intake and your body will burn fat and you will lose weight. Are you at an unhealthy weight now? Find out here: https://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/body-mass-index

Stronger Heart – Teaches the heart to work more efficiently.

Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol – As your heart beats faster it increases blood flow. Blood vessels become more elastic when they are worked and small blood vessels widen to deliver more oxygen to your muscles.

Increased Bone Density – Weight bearing aerobic exercise like walking helps to decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

Reduces Stress & Depression – When you exercise your body releases endorphins which are natural pain killers.

Better Sleep – Let’s face we sleep better when our body is tired.

Maintain muscle strength into old age. – Strong muscles as we age will keep us independent longer.

More Energy – You will increase your stamina and reduce your fatigue. OK, you may fell more exhausted when you first start an exercise program, but stick with it and your energy levels will increase. You will be on your way to a more active lifestyle.

Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease – Being physically active is important in preventing Heart Disease (#1 Killer) and Stroke (#5 Killer).

Strengthens Lungs – When we move our large muscles we breathe faster and more deeply this improves lung function.

Live Longer – Studies show that those who regularly exercise live longer than those who don’t.

Less Likely to Get Sick – Exercise activates your immune system. Want to avoid a cold? Don’t pass up on your exercise.

How should you start?

Before starting any new exercise program, it is important to know if you are healthy enough to increase your activity level. Please check with a health care professional on any limitations or restrictions you may have, particularly if you have a chronic health condition.

It is also important to start small and increase the time you are active and the intensity of your workout. Walking is the safest and easiest way to get started. Increase the amount of time you walk and the speed you are walking and before you know it you will reap all the rewards of cardiovascular exercise.

If you have arthritis look into swimming exercise classes. These can be much easier on the joints.

As Exercise Intensity Increases = More Calories Burned

In order to feel good now and in the future you need cardio exercise. It will not create 6 pack abs or tone problem areas but it will make your body more efficient in your day to day living.

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What Is Cardio, and How Often Should You Do It?

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You know you should do it. You know it can be a boon to health. You know it involves sweating. But beyond that — what is cardio exercise exactly? How does it affect the body differently from other forms of exercise? What counts as cardio training and what doesn’t? How often should you do it, and how should you do it? We have the answers below.

What Is Cardio Training?

“People tend to think of cardio in terms of steady state exercise, like jogging,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S. and Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content. “But really, cardio is anything that A) raises your heart and breathing rates, and B) improves the function of your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.”

To bring more clarity to this type of exercise, let’s tackle a few common cardio training misconceptions one at a time:

Myth: Cardio is any exercise that increases the heart rate

Not quite. Just about any physical activity you do can increase your heart rate, from lifting weights to strolling between your desk and the bathroom to rolling out of bed in the morning. For an activity to qualify as a cardio workout, it has to meet both criteria mentioned above. In short, it has to raise your heart and breathing rates, and challenge your cardiovascular system, just like a biceps exercise has to challenge your biceps and an abdominal exercise has to challenge your abs.

While leisurely activities like walking and easy bike riding have benefits of their own, and are cardiovascular in nature, they aren’t cardio exercises (unless you are very de-conditioned). That’s because they don’t challenge the heart and lungs enough to improve their function.

Myth: Cardio is the same thing as ‘aerobic exercise’

Aerobic exercise is one form of cardio training — but it’s not the only one.

Think of your body as a hybrid vehicle with two engines: one is aerobic — meaning it requires oxygen to run, while the other is anaerobic — meaning it doesn’t need oxygen. Both engines are always active, but depending on the duration and intensity of your workout, one will work harder than the other.

The aerobic system is best for long and relatively easy activities — the stuff you spend most of your day doing: working at a desk, eating, walking — and for lower-intensity forms of exercise, like jogging. You can emphasize the aerobic system with continuous low-intensity activity lasting 20 minutes or more.

The anaerobic engine is for fast and intense activities, like squatting a barbell or sprinting all-out for 30 seconds. It’s also emphasized during repeated bursts of intense activity, such as cardio workouts involving high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Mountains of research in the last two decades (including this study) show that both aerobic and anaerobic workouts can improve cardiovascular function — and so both approaches qualify as “cardio” exercise.

Myth: You have to track your heart rate to get a good cardio workout

Since cardiovascular exercise is directly related to how hard your heart is working, that must mean you need to know your heart rate with some fancy heart rate monitor, right?

Not exactly. While trainers have traditionally used the “age adjusted heart rate” formula (check it out here) to track intensity during cardio workouts, it’s been called into question in recent years: a 2010 study, for example, found that the age-based formula might not be accurate for many women. Other studies on different age populations have come to a similar conclusion.

Thankfully, there may be more accurate and practical way to monitor how hard your heart is working. Just use the talk test: if you find it difficult to speak, even in short sentences, then that likely means you’re in the right range for the activity to qualify as cardio exercise.

Myth: You have to run, bike, or swim, or else it’s not cardio training.

When it comes to cardio training, it’s not what you do — it’s how you do it.

“The umbrella of cardio encompasses much more than a long run,” Thieme says. “It also includes HIIT workouts, dancing, and some types of strength training (like circuit training). Even vigorous household activities count (like raking leaves, moving furniture, or carrying groceries up stairs) if you do them with enough commitment and intensity.” To determine if your chosen activity counts, just try out the talk test mentioned above.

Examples of Cardio Exercises

Sure, standard workouts like running, cycling, and stair climbing can be great cardio exercises, but so can kickboxing, shooting hoops, and shoveling snow. Your cardio training options are almost limitless. You just need to keep the intensity high enough to challenge your heart and lungs.

Cardio training can be a steady-state exercise that’s done at low to moderate intensity, like jogging or an easy bike ride. Cardio training can also be intervals of high intensity exercise, like HIIT, where you go all out for 20-120 second bursts, and then rest just long enough to allow you to perform the next round with equal intensity (like tabata).

Just keep in mind that whatever cardio activity you choose should involve large muscle groups in the legs and trunk, since smaller muscle groups like the biceps and calves don’t create an oxygen demand large enough to tax the cardiovascular system on their own.

Benefits of Cardio Training

What is cardio training good for, and why should you bother doing it? Like brushing your teeth and sleeping for seven to eight hours a night, it’s one of the most indisputably healthy activities you can do.

By challenging and strengthening your cardiovascular system, you increase its capacity to take in oxygen, pump blood to the working muscles, and clear carbon dioxide and other waste products from your system. Plus, as your heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood, your resting heart rate slows, reducing the stress on your most vital muscle.

Long story short: cardio training helps your heart and lungs function better both during exercise and at rest.

How to Pick the Best Cardio Workout For You

A recent study in the Journal of Physiology found that four to five cardio workouts a week is optimal for cardiovascular health and longevity. Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of time in the cardio saddle. So how should you spend it?

Since cardio exercise can encompass a vast range of activities — from stationary cycling to dancing to raking leaves — you have many options from which to choose, and you should choose several. After all, you don’t have to confine cardio training to workouts — you can weave it into your everyday life as well. Use these four factors to help you choose which type of cardio training is best for you.

  1. Convenience. Whatever type of cardio training you choose to do regularly, make it something that’s convenient. In other words, don’t commit to swimming workouts if you don’t have easy access to a pool, or cycling workouts if you don’t have easy access to clear roads or a bike path (or a spin bike). Ideally, you should choose something you can do close to home that involves minimal preparation and equipment. You can even do cardio at home!
  2. Preference. The Internet is overflowing with advice on what the best type of cardio training is, but ultimately, the best cardio workout is the one you’ll do consistently. So don’t take up mountain biking if you’re not into adrenaline sports; don’t choose swimming if you hate the water. Pick something you’ll be excited to do. Maybe you’re interested in doing something that’s martial arts-inspired, or a dance workout. Or maybe, some days you just want to just lace up your shoes, blast your workout playlist, and go for a run. Since cardio encompasses so many activities, don’t limit yourself to something you have to force yourself to do.
  3. Physical limitations. If you have a history of joint injuries, particularly to your knees, ankles, and lower back, you should avoid high-impact activities (like running and basketball). Instead, you should stick with low-impact cardio activities like cycling, swimming, and strength training. If you’re looking for a low-impact cardio workout at home, try something like yoga or pilates to boost your heart rate and get you sweating without any jumping or pounding on your joints.
  4. Time. Some people live for a four-hour weekend bike ride. Others would rather get it done fast and get out. Luckily, cardio training can be done in less than 30 minutes. Skeptical? You can get a sweat-inducing cardio workouts in 20 to 30 minutes with the right kind of HIIT workout. Whatever you choose, just be sure that it fits your schedule.

Openfit Cardio Workouts You Can Do at Home

If you’re ready to turn all of your newly acquired cardio training knowledge into cardio training experience, choose from the dozens of workouts on Openfit.

Tough Mudder T-MINUS 30

Four-time Tough Mudder X champion Hunter McIntyre helps you get into crazy shape in just 30 days of hard-charging, heart-challenging workouts that focus on building total-body strength, cardio endurance, and functional mobility. Whether you’re trying to conquer a Tough Mudder or just quantum-leap your fitness, T-MINUS 30 can help you get into the best shape of your life.

600 Secs

If you have 10 minutes, you have enough time to get an effective cardio workout. Trainer Devin Wiggins wrings out every last one of those 600 seconds with high-intensity workouts that maximize your fat burning and muscle building potential. Two or more workouts can also be stacked to create a longer, even more effective training session.

Xtend Barre

These 30-minute versions of Andrea Rogers’ signature studio class combine Pilates, ballet fundamentals, and high-energy cardio to help burn fat and sculpt a more muscular physique. Xtend Barre incorporates the isometric exercises of traditional barre workouts with dynamic, full range-of-motion movements that keep it fun, fresh, and challenging.

Rough Around the Edges (Coming Soon)

This intense, results-driven training program is led by a team of professional stuntwomen, who teach you the actual moves they do to get ready for their roles. The result is a series of challenging, unconventional workouts — like Dance Fight MMA, Action Star Cardio, Booty Building Boxing, and Firecracker Weighted Core — designed to burn fat and build strength.

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The Mayo Clinic Diet

In a nutshell, the term aerobic means “with oxygen.” Aerobic exercise and activities are also called cardio, short for “cardiovascular.” During aerobic activity, you repeatedly move large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. Your heart rate increases and you breathe faster and more deeply. This maximizes the amount of oxygen in your blood and ultimately helps you use oxygen more efficiently.

How well you use oxygen is called your aerobic capacity. When your aerobic capacity is high, your heart, lungs and blood vessels efficiently deliver large amounts of oxygen throughout your body. As a result, you feel more energized and don’t tire as quickly.

If you are a beginner to exercise, start with low to moderately intense cardio activities, so you can do them for long periods of time and gain many health benefits. Common examples include walking, bicycling, swimming, dancing and water aerobics, but don’t limit yourself: You can choose any activities you enjoy, such as canoeing, in-line skating, golfing or martial arts.

Benefits

If you haven’t gotten enough aerobic exercise, you may use your entire aerobic capacity while walking up a flight of stairs. You’ll realize this when you get to the top and feel out of breath. But if you’re fit, you’ll have no problem because your aerobic capacity is greater. That’s just one example of how you can benefit from cardio exercise.

Cardio exercise and activities can also:

  • Strengthen your heart and muscles
  • Burn calories
  • Help control your appetite
  • Boost your mood through the release of endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals released by your brain
  • Help you sleep better at night
  • Reduce arthritis pain and stiffness through joint movement
  • Help prevent or manage high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes

No matter what your age, aerobic exercise will help you in your daily activities and increase your stamina and endurance.

Start slowly

If you’re a beginner, start slowly. You might walk five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Gradually add a few minutes to each session and then pick up the pace a bit. Soon you could be walking briskly for 30 minutes a day. Also consider hiking, cycling, jogging, rowing, elliptical training — any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate.

Take a three-pronged approach

Include three elements in your workout:

  • Warm-up. Before each session, warm up for five to 10 minutes to gradually rev up your cardiovascular system and increase blood flow to your muscles. Try a low-intensity version of your planned activity. For example, if you plan to take a brisk walk, warm up by walking slowly.
  • Conditioning. At your own pace, work up to at least 30 minutes of cardio a day to develop your aerobic capacity by increasing your heart rate, depth of breathing and muscle endurance.
  • Cool-down. After each session, cool down for five to 10 minutes. Stretch your calf muscles, quadriceps (upper thighs), hamstrings, lower back and chest. This after-workout stretch allows your heart rate and muscles to return to normal.

Moderate activity should cause you to breathe faster and feel like you’re working. But if you experience unusual pain or alarming symptoms during exercise, stop immediately and seek medical attention.

How to get cardio?

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