Cardiovascular, or cardio, exercises are any exercises that increase a person’s heart rate. Cardio exercises can be beneficial to people who want to reach or maintain a moderate weight or stay healthy.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an adult should get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise per week.
This article will cover some of the top cardio exercises a person can do at home or the gym. It will also discuss the benefits of cardio exercises.
Cardio exercises can have many beneficial effects on a person’s body. A 2015 study found that people who completed a 4-week cardio exercise program had:
- an increased sense of well-being
- a decrease in psychological distress
- a decrease in perceived stress
- less emotional exhaustion
Cardio exercises may also be helpful for people who would like to lose weight. Researchers found that female participants who attended a Zumba class for 8 weeks had statistically significant effects in:
- body fat mass reduction
- body weight loss improvement
- body mass index improvement
- fat percentage reduction
There are many cardio exercises a person can do to reach or maintain a moderate body weight or improve their health. Before any exercise, a person should take time to warm up their muscles to reduce the risk of injury.
All recommended exercises in this section are guidelines only. A person wanting to start any new exercise should do so gently and at their own pace.
Once a person becomes familiar with a form of cardio exercise, they can try to increase the intensity, volume, duration, resistance, or technique to make the exercise more challenging.
Jump rope is an effective form of cardio exercise. Jumping rope strengthens calf muscles and improves the elasticity of surrounding tendons and connective tissue. Jump rope also uses the arm muscles, as well as the muscles of the abdomen.
- Lightly grip the handles of the jump rope.
- Relax the shoulders and keep the elbows close to the torso.
- Gently bend the knees.
- Rotate the rope from the wrist and keep a smooth arc as the rope passes overhead.
- Jump low to reduce impact on the knees and ankles.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend 15 minutes of jump rope exercises as part of a person’s daily moderate intensity exercise.
Jumping jacks involve the entire body and are a good way to work the heart, lungs, and muscles in one exercise.
- Standing straight, spread the arms to the sides and the legs wide apart.
- Jump, returning the arms to the sides of the body, and the legs to the midline.
- Jump again, extending the arms and legs out.
Burpees are an intense exercise, as they use the arms, legs, and core.
- Stand upright.
- Squat, placing the hands on the ground.
- Jump the legs back so they are straight.
- Jump the legs to return into the squat position.
- Stand up.
- Jump in place.
Running in place
When running in place, a person moves their body as if they were running, but they stay in one spot.
A 2015 study found that running in place can reduce muscle fatigue, improve aerobic exercise ability, and strengthen muscles. Researchers also note that it improved flexibility, gait, and lumbar stability.
Running in place can be part of an interval workout. This is where a person completes repetitions of different exercises in a set time. An example of an interval workout that includes running in place is the following:
- Run in place for 2 minutes.
- Increase speed for 1 minute.
- Rest for 1 minute.
- Jog in place for 3 minutes.
- Rest for 1 minute.
Squat jumps involve the same movements as a regular squat, with the addition of a jump. Squat jumps target the buttocks, thighs, and hamstrings. Squats also help increase flexibility of the knee, hip, and ankle joints.
- Stand with the feet apart and the arms along the sides of the body.
- Squat until the knees are at a 90-degree angle, swinging the arms back.
- Swing arms forward and jump.
- Land and repeat.
High intensity interval training (HIIT)
HIIT is a series of workouts that involve short high intensity bursts, broken up by lower intensity recovery periods. HIIT training uses the body’s energy reserves, increasing metabolism and calories burned.
According to the American Council on Exercise, a person should do 1 minute of high intensity exercise for every 2 or 3 minutes of recovery. At home, a person may choose to do intense exercises, such as sprinting or burpees, followed by gentle jogging on the spot.
If a person chooses to do cardio workouts at the gym, they can consider the following exercises:
The elliptical machine can provide the cardio benefits of walking or running, with reduced impact on a person’s joints. Elliptical machines are beneficial to those with joint issues, such as arthritis.
The stair climber strengthens the lower body. A person using a stair climber should make sure they maintain good posture throughout the exercise.
It can take a while to build stamina with a stair climber, and so a person should take their time and focus on increasing the duration of the sets.
The exercise bike is useful for people who have joint issues, as it places less stress on the joints than other cardio machines. The exercise bike works the leg muscles, and a person can choose their pace.
A person using a treadmill is essentially running but with less impact on their joints. The treadmill is also easily adjustable for each individual’s needs.
A person using a treadmill should start at a pace that suits their fitness level.
The rowing machine offers a total body workout. Additionally, it has the benefit of being impact free, and it does not involve bearing weight.
- Sit in the seat and strap the feet to the platform.
- Bend the legs and pull the knees in.
- Keep the arms straight and grip the oars.
- Push against the platform with the feet while moving the body up and the arms back.
- Fully extend the legs, then pull the arms back and bend the knees.
Swimming has many health benefits. According to Australia’s Department of Health and Human Services, swimming:
- increases heart rate but reduces impact stress on the body
- builds endurance, muscle strength, and heart fitness
- helps maintain healthful weight
- keeps the heart and lungs healthy
A cardio exercise in a swimming pool can involve completing lengths. A person should build their swimming strength at a pace that suits their needs.
A person who wants to get the most benefit out of cardio exercise can try the following:
- making sure they warm up before and cool down after every workout session
- giving their body time to recover between workouts
- eating a healthful, balanced diet
- creating a weekly exercise routine
- setting realistic goals
- starting slowly, and gradually building up strength and stamina
There are many cardio exercises available for a person who would like to reach or maintain a moderate weight or become healthier.
A person should be aware of their limits and make sure not to push themselves too far. If a person has any concerns with regard to their exercise routine, they should speak with a doctor.
It is important to note that being healthy and reaching or maintaining a moderate weight requires a combination of a balanced diet and exercise.