Cardio: Define, Why, and How…

Written by Elsie Velazquez Cert. Personal Trainer Prescription Fitness

Define

Before I get into why you should do “cardio” (short for “cardiovascular exercise”) and how to incorporate it into your daily routine, I think it is important to define what it is.  Cardio exercise is any activity in which you move your large muscle groups for a sustained period of time while maintaining an increased heart rate.  Any activity that gets your heart rate to about 50-75% of your maximum heart rate can be considered cardio.  To roughly calculate your maximum heart rate, you can use this formula:  220 minus your age.

Why

There are many benefits to incorporating cardio into your daily routine.  The first one that comes to mind, of course, is weight loss.  While that is a great reason to incorporate cardio into your routine, there are many other less obvious reasons.

  • Strengthens the heart
  • Strengthens the circulatory system
  • Relieves stress
  • Keeps brain younger (linked to benefit of strengthening the heart)
  • Makes you a better thinker
  • Can ease depression by releasing endorphins – hormones that enhance mood
  • Can improve your sleep
  • Increases bone density (benefits increase when combined with strength training)
  • Heightens your self-confidence

How

Now that I have defined what cardio is and I have given you many benefits other than simply weight loss to encourage you to add more cardio into you workout routine, I will give you some of the best forms of cardio.  Most are basic but I will give you a few examples of how to make your cardio sessions more interesting and challenging.

  • Walking
  • Jogging/running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Elliptical trainer
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Rowing

Keep in mind that for any of the above activities to be effective cardio sources, you must keep your heart rate elevated (as discussed above) for a long stretch of time (30 minutes 5 days a week is preferable).

One way to keep things interesting and fun is to incorporate two or three types of cardio activities into your routine.  An example would be 10 minutes walking, 10 minutes jogging, and 10 minutes of jump rope intervals (30 seconds jumping, 30 seconds rest for a total of 10 minutes).  Another would be 10 minutes on elliptical, 10 minutes on treadmill, and 10 minutes of rowing.  You can also add moves such as jumping jacks and jogging in place to your walk.  For example, stop every 5 minutes to add 1 minute of jumping jacks and 1 minute of jogging in place would not only increase your calorie burn and heart strengthening benefits but it will prevent boredom.

Hope this helps…now go get your cardio on!