In this post you’ll learn what exactly constitutes ‘cardio training’, the safest and most effective routes to kickstart your cardio training without wearing yourself out, as well as the top 5 benefits of cardio. Credit for this post goes to the writer, Vera. You can find more of her posts at @datesandweights on Instagram.
What is cardiovascular training?
The human cardiorespiratory system consists of two individual systems: the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system), and the lungs and airways that make up the respiratory system.
When we perform cardio training, we are training and strengthening both of these essential-to-life systems, and when we have good cardiorespiratory fitness, the circulatory and respiratory systems of the body are able to supply oxygen-rich blood to the skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity.
Unfortunately, out of the numerous domains and components that make up a person’s physical fitness, cardiovascular endurance is quite underrated and misjudged. Many people’s first thoughts go to “it’s only good for weight loss”, or worse “I don’t need to do any cardio; it’s hard and I’ll be plenty fit by just lifting weights.”
Goals of cardiovascular exercise
The most common goals when it comes to cardio training are
- To improve overall physical health and fitness
- To prevent diseases of the heart
- To improve performance (and delay the onset of fatigue during different activities)
- To manage a healthy body weight or achieve weight loss
- To improve mental health and perseverance (from the well-known “runner’s high” to the grit and dedication necessary to complete a bout of exercise)
How much cardio is good for you?
For the apparently healthy adult, it is generally recommended to perform a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. That is about 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, and can be met through activities like brisk walking, cycling, playing sports, etc.
Due to the numerous health benefits of aerobic exercise (from mental health to improved heart health), many people incorporate activity into their lives on a daily basis, with no pre-set upper limit.
If you are experiencing any health issues, pains, or excessive fatigue, take it as a warning signal from your body. Take a rest day and/or consult a physician if the discomfort goes beyond muscle soreness or some fatigue.
My personal rule of thumb as a certified personal trainer and exercise-lover is: Working out and moving your body should make you feel better, not worse. It should give you more energy, not less. It should decrease ailments and pains in the long term, not add to them. You know your body the best, pay attention to its signals and listen to them.
What’s the best form of cardio to start with?
If you are quite new to exercising in general or to cardio training specifically, it is wise to begin with low-intensity cardio sessions that will keep your heart rate in zone 1 (50-75% of HRmax). As a personal trainer, I recommend sticking to zone 1 workouts until you can work up to and maintain them for 30-60 minutes of continuous exercise. This can be done through brisk walks, low-intensity bike rides (outside or in the gym), stair-stepping (as long as it keeps you in zone 1), or even circuit training.
If you don’t know your preference of activities yet, try out as many different kinds as you can in the beginning to find what you really enjoy and what you’d rather never do again.
Once you’ve reached the above-mentioned threshold (being able to continuously exercise for 30-60 minutes without leaving HR zone 1), you can begin incorporating higher intensity cardio workouts by increasing speed or incline or decreasing rest times. At that point, you can alternate your zone 1 and new zone 2 workouts throughout the week.
How to determine intensity in cardio workouts?
The most effective way to determine your heart rate zones and intensities during cardiovascular exercise (and other workouts alike) is through a heart rate monitor.
- Zone 1 is between 50-75% of HRmax
- Zone 2 is between 76-85% of HRmax
- Zone 3 is between 86-95% of HRmax
Here is the easy formula to calculate your personal HR zones:
(220-your age) x the percentage you are trying to target. For example: (220-23) x 0.76 = 150
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor and do not want to invest in one at the moment, you can roughly determine the zone you are working in through the talk test.
In zone 1, talking should be easy while performing the workout for at least 10-20 seconds. In zone 2, talking should be challenging to difficult. In zone 3, talking is difficult to impossible.
Ideally, work with a certified personal trainer for optimal program design and supervision to maximize safety and efficiency throughout your workouts and recovery.
5 Benefits Of Training Cardio Regularly
It can prevent major diseases and improve overall health
Cardiovascular health is crucial for an overall healthy life. Whether you begin training and incorporating aerobic exercise in your teens or twenties or are picking it up in middle to later adulthood – the physical benefits are quite impressive:
- strengthens the lungs and increases the endurance capacity of the respiratory system
- strengthens the heart muscle
- improves blood flow in the body
- improves oxygen flow
- can decrease cholesterol levels
- decreases your resting heart rate (which is a great sign that the heart can pump blood more efficiently and regularly)
- can prevent heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes
- can help prevent osteoporosis.
Not only that, but it can even reverse the signs and symptoms of these diseases! A healthy heart is the basis for a healthy life, so these are arguably the most fantastic benefits of cardio training.
Cardio training is a great tool for weight loss
Aerobic exercise burns a lot of energy (calories) while performed, and even beyond the exercise session. The more oxygen is used during a workout, the more calories are typically expended.
After completing a cardio workout, more energy is required to bring the body back to its resting and balanced state and to restore the body to the resting level of metabolic function. This is called Excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC for short). In simpler terms: not only do you burn high levels of energy during the workout, but your body continues to burn further calories afterward, which makes cardio workouts great tools for weight loss and caloric expenditure.
Reaching or maintaining a healthy body weight is important for optimal health as it can prevent numerous diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
If you are at a healthy weight already but want to reap the physiological benefits of cardiovascular fitness, simply be sure to consume sufficient calories from healthy sources to replenish your body’s energy tank to avoid unwanted weight loss.
It makes everday tasks easier
While aerobic capacity does decrease with age, people in any stage of life can improve their cardiovascular health and fitness. Performing regular cardio exercise and increasing one’s cardiovascular health in this way is a sure way to make daily tasks such as cleaning the house, climbing stairs, walking the dog (or walking for fun), climbing hills, etc. more effortless and enjoyable. Remaining active throughout one’s life is a fantastic way to stay in shape and remain capable of performing important physical tasks even in older adulthood.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine reports that “researchers consider maintaining cardiorespiratory health throughout adulthood one of the key components to longevity and quality of life.” – don’t neglect it!
Sleep and Mental Health Benefits
Not only can regular exercise help you have a better day, but it can also help you sleep! Researchers have found that regular aerobic activity for prolonged periods can improve sleep quality and even reduce daytime sleepiness, making it easier for you to fall asleep at your regular bedtime.
Cardio exercise releases endorphins
Have you ever gotten to experience the feeling brought on by exercise-related endorphins? You may have started your workout in a dull mood, but it’s all turned around after you’re done sweating. You have a better outlook on the day and on life, you feel productive and accomplished. It’s a pretty dang good feeling!
The “secret” to achieving it: finding a type of exercise you really enjoy, and just doing it! Not every single session will be like sunshine and rainbows, but you’ll find that you’re in a better mood after the majority of them.
Regular physical activity can decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and increase overall self-confidence.
What type of cardio is best?
This is a big question with an easy answer: the best type of cardiovascular exercise is the kind you enjoy and can stick to. Some ideas:
- brisk walking
- interval running (walking, jogging, sprinting)
- stair stepping
- circuit training (performing resistance exercises with little to no rest in between exercises)
Cardio equipment for the home
While your local gym will likely have different machines for cardio exercise, the gym isn’t everybody’s first choice when it comes to working out. Whether you live in a smaller town where the commute to the gym is a bit too far, whether you want to work out where you can watch your little ones, or whether you just don’t like going to the gym, home cardio equipment can become your best friend.
NordicTrack T Series 6.5 SI Treadmill
This NordicTrack treadmill has over 19,000 reviews on Amazon alone, with an average rating of 4.5 stars.
It has a weight limit of 300 pounds, is foldable for easier storage, allows you to create up to 5 profiles for users. The treadmill comes with a year-long membership to iFit, through which you will be able to access trainer-led workouts directly on the treadmill without hiring a trainer or leaving your home. The treadmill provides good cushioning to dampen the impact from running on your joints. One of NordicTrack’s more affordable models, this is a great treadmill to buy and use at home.
Sunny Health Water Rowing Machine
Rowing might not be the first option that comes to your mind when you think about cardio machines and workouts, but it is worth your attention! A session on the rowing machine is a full-body workout, working your arms, legs, core, and your cardio in one. It is a relatively low-impact workout compared to running, so it places little stress on your joints.
This rower has a comfortable and functional seat, it accurately tracks workout metrics (total time, 500m time, strokes per minute, total strokes, and calories burned), and it can be stored upright when not in use to save space. At an overall rating of 4.4 stars based on over 2,000 reviews on Amazon alone, this Sunny Health Water Rower is a fantastic option.
NordicTrack Commercial Studio Spin Bike
If you’ve ever been to a spin class, you know what loud music, a good workout sequence, and 45 minutes of sweat can do for you. NordicTrack offers the same experience (just dim your living room lights and throw on your favorite music) for your home. Coming with an interactive HD touch screen, this spin bike allows you to choose from numerous live and on-demand fitness workouts. It keeps track of your workout stats and is a guaranteed good workout.
If you are interested in getting a spin bike at a more affordable price, check out this spin bike.
The list of benefits of cardiovascular exercise is long and meaningful. From heart and lung health to mental health, sleep improvement, weight loss, and increased self-confidence, we believe that it’s time to stop neglecting your cardio training and start incorporating aerobic exercise into your routine at least a few days a week. Whether you choose low intensity, steady-state movements such as walks, or higher intensity ones like interval runs, high-intensity rowing, or spin biking, get moving and do your heart and happiness a favor!