The word “cardio” is probably one of the first words you hear when you first start an exercise program. You know that cardio is an essential component of any workout, whether you want to lose weight, get fit, or just be healthier. Health authorities recommend 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week to reduce health risks.1
If you want to lose a substantial amount of weight (more than 5% of body weight) and/or keep it off, you may have to do more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and that doesn’t even include strength training. Getting a deeper understanding of cardio exercise may be what you need to get motivated to do it a little more often.
Cardio Exercise Definition
Cardio exercise simply means that you’re doing a rhythmic activity that raises your heart rate into your target heart rate zone, the zone where you’ll burn the most fat and calories.
Even bouts (or episodes) as short as 10 minutes count towards your weekly cardio exercise minutes. According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, “episodes of any length contribute to the health benefits associated with the accumulated volume of physical activity.”1
Finding the Right Intensity for Your Heart Rate Training Zone
Benefits of Cardio Exercise
When you realize just how much cardio exercise can do for you, you may want to do some right now. There are very few activities you can do for a short period of time that have this many benefits.
Some of the known benefits of cardio include:
Burns fat and calories for weight loss
Enhances sleep quality
Expands lung capacity
Improves sex life
Increases bone density (weight-bearing cardio exercise)
Promotes feeling good, and can even provide temporary relief from depression and anxiety
Provides more confidence in how you look and feel
Reduces the risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some forms of cancer
Sets a good example for your family
Strengthens the heart so that it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood
The great thing about cardio is that you don’t have to work out for an hour at a high-intensity to get the benefits. Even a little goes a long way. A 15-minute walk outside can boost your mood and help lower blood pressure.
Don’t feel like you have to have a lot of time and energy for cardio. Doing a little each day is better than doing nothing at all. With all the benefits laid out for you, it’s time for the next step which covers exactly how to choose your cardio exercise.
Choosing a Cardio Exercise
Your first step in setting up a program is to figure out what kind of activities you’d like to do. The trick is to think about what’s accessible to you, what fits your personality, and what you’d feel comfortable fitting into your life. If you like to go outdoors, running, cycling, or walking are all good choices.
Just about any activity will work, as long as it involves a movement that gets your heart rate into your heart rate zone. Walking is always an excellent choice. It’s something most of us can do on a regular basis and you don’t need fancy equipment.
If you prefer going to the gym, you have access to many more options in the form of machines like stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, treadmills, rowing machines, climbers, the pool, and more.
For the home exerciser, you can, of course, buy your own treadmill or elliptical trainer, but there are other great options like:
Home cardio exercises like jumping rope, jumping jacks, jogging in place, burpees, and more
You have so many choices but, the trouble is, you may not even know what you like yet. You may have to try several different activities before you find one that works for you. This is the experiment we all have to take part in and it can be hit or miss so don’t be afraid to try something and, if it doesn’t work, move on to something else.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to branch out. The nice thing about cardio is that you can choose any activity that raises your heart rate. You don’t have to do the same workout every session, or every week. Changing up your cardio is easy. Try different things to discover more activities you enjoy.
Choose something you can see yourself doing regularly. To meet the exercise recommendations, you need to do cardio 3 days per week. Make it easier to be consistent by choosing an activity that is convenient for you to do that often, at least until you’ve formed the habit.
Do something you enjoy (or at least something you can tolerate). If you hate gym workouts, don’t force yourself onto a treadmill. Walk, jog, or bike outdoors to enjoy the scenery. If you like socializing, consider sports, group fitness, working out with a friend, or a walking club.
Keep it simple. If you’re confused about what to do, start with the basics. You need at least 20 minutes for the body to get going, so start there. Get out your calend