Cardiovascular exercise (cardio) is generally considered to be the best all-round form of exercise and the basis for most health regimes.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, build up your fitness or just stay generally healthy, some level of cardio workout is essential. It’s just as important however to decide on the type and level of workout that’s right for you – and that’s something which will depend on your personality and lifestyle, as well as your overall goals and your starting fitness level.
Measured by Heartbeats per Minute
Cardiovascular performance is based on the number of heart beats per minute, the volume of blood pumped out by your heart per beat, and the power of each contraction of your heart muscle. A good cardio workout increases all these factors and alters the level of blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles.
The workout should take you to within your target heart rate zone, which differs according to your age, body mass and level of fitness. A moderate intensity cardio workout should have you breaking a sweat and breathing hard, but not so breathless that you can’t talk.
Benefits to Cardio
The benefits of a cardio workout are too numerous to list fully, but the most basic are a stronger heart and increased lung capacity, a reduced risk of heart attacks and diabetes, and general physical and mental well-being. Cardio burns calories and builds up muscles, helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, combats stress and depression and helps you sleep better at night.
If you like being outdoors then cycling, walking, running and hiking are all good cardio exercise. If you’d rather use a gym then treadmills, cycling and rowing machines provide similar workouts. At home you can do push-ups, sit-ups, squat thrusts and jumping jacks to stay in shape, or even just walk up and down the stairs a few times.
Importance of Warming Up
Whatever you’re doing, make sure you warm up beforehand with some stretching exercises and dress appropriately. Compression clothing may help with muscle fatigue and circulation; get some tips by watching an exercise video or if you’re really serious maybe consider hiring a personal trainer to make sure you keep to your schedule.
It’s important not to overdo it at first, as too much exercise can be as bad for you as too little. Start with 10-20 minute sessions, on three non-consecutive days in the week; you can even split these into several five minute sessions throughout the day. Speed walk to the shops, or take the stairs rather than the elevator. After a few weeks work up to 30 minutes a day, four days a week, but remember to go at your own pace. Once you’re putting in this amount of time you can make your exercises more effective by gradually increasing the intensity level.
With cardio it’s not so much what you do as how hard you do it, and how much time and effort you put in. Every minute of exercise helps, but it’s important to find the time to stick to a personal schedule. A good cardio workout regime will make you happier and healthier, and the benefits will soon be so apparent you’ll wonder why you ever went on without it.
- Glaros, N. M., & Janelle, C. M. (2001). Varying the mode of cardiovascular exercise to increase adherence. Journal of Sport Behavior, 24(1), 42-62. link
- Annesi, J. J. (2006). Relations of self-motivation, perceived physical condition, and exercise-induced changes in revitalization and exhaustion with attendance in women initiating a moderate cardiovascular exercise regimen. Women & health, 42(3), 77-93. link