What is cardio?
Cardiovascular (known as ‘cardio’ for short) is simply exercise that increases your heart rate. Most people believe that the sole purpose of cardio is weight loss, however, while cardio is great for weight loss, the main benefit is increasing cardiovascular health and increasing heart and lung strength, which in turn reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, strokes and even some types of cancer. Additionally, weight-bearing aerobic exercises such as walking can help to lower the risk of bone-related diseases like Osteoporosis.
What does cardio exercise involve?
Cardio exercise (sometimes called aerobic exercise) is any rhythmic activity that increases your heart rate. Cardio activity can be anything from walking the dog to running to playing tennis – as long as your heart rate is increased and you are working up a sweat, it counts!
The thing that sets cardio apart from other forms of exercise, like strength training, is that cardio relies on our bodies ’ aerobic energy system to fuel the activity. This means that our bodies use oxygen to help us break down glucose in our muscles, which then provides them with the energy they need to keep going and a person’s cardio ability can vary based on a number of different factors.
For example, the American Heart Association have reported that genetics tend to have a 20-40% influence over your cardio ability, with females tending to have a 25% lower cardio capacity than males – and both sex’s cardio ability decline with age.
How often should I do cardio exercise?
The Harvard Health and Medical School has reported that the U.S Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This doesn’t necessarily need to be one block of 150 minutes, that would be extremely difficult for most. This time can be broken down throughout the week, perhaps 5 lots of 30 minutes or even broken down further like doing 10 minutes three times a day, like 10 minutes before breakfast, 10 minutes during lunch and 10 minutes in the evening.
What are the benefits of cardio?
As mentioned above, the main benefit of cardio is improving heart and lung health, which reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Cardio also helps to burn calories and can be used as part of a weight loss plan. Additionally, cardio exercise has been shown to improve mental health, increase lifespan and help to prevent cognitive decline.
- Strengthens the heart and lungs so they don’t need to work as hard to pump blood
- Reduces the risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and even some forms of cancer.
- Improves confidence and promotes feeling good, relieving depression and anxiety
- Lowers stress
- Increases bone density (especially when doing weight-bearing exercise
- Expands lung capacity
- Enhances sleep quality
- Burns fat and calories, helping to lose weight
Types of cardio exercise:
There are many different types of cardio exercises that can be done, both with or without equipment. Below is a list of some common cardio exercises:
Walking: This is a great low-impact activity that can be done anywhere, at any time. Walking is also a good starting point for those who are new to exercise or have not been active for a while.
Jogging/Running: A slightly more intense form of cardio, jogging and running are great calorie-burning exercises.
Swimming: Swimming is a great all-over body workout and is a low-impact exercise, making it ideal for those with joint problems.
Cycling: Cycling is another great all-over body workout that can be done indoors or outdoors.
Rowing: Rowing is a great cardio workout that works the arms, legs and core muscles.
Skipping: Skipping is a great cardio workout that can be done indoors or outdoors and is suitable for all fitness levels.
Cardio workouts can be done either with or without equipment, depending on what you have available to you and your preference. If you are new to exercise, it is always a good idea to start slow and build up your fitness levels over time.
What Equipment can be used for Cardio
There are lots of machines and equipment that can be used for cardio, either at the gym or purchased for use at home. The most common are:
Treadmills: Treadmills are designed for running, and are known to be excellent for fat loss, building muscle, increasing bone density and improving heart and cardiovascular health. Usually, treadmills allow the ability to control the speed, resistance and incline to tailor exercises to the difficulty you need.
Cross Trainers: Cross trainers are also known as elliptical trainers and are designed to mimic climbing stairs, walking or running while minimising the pressure to joints, hence decreasing the risk of impact injuries that are commonly associated with related exercises. In a similar way to treadmills, cross-trainers can change the incline to increase the difficulty.
Exercise Bikes: There are three popular types of exercise bikes; Upright Bikes, Recumbent Bikes and Indoor Cycles, all of which operate in a similar sort of way. Bikes (or cycles) operate exactly like normal two-wheel pushbikes, with the differentiating factor being the way you sit on the machine. Upright bikes mean you sit in an upright position, recumbent bikes are slightly reclined, seated position with indoor cycles allowing the user to lean forward and cycle like a road bike.
Stair Climbers: Stair climbers do exactly what they say; they mimic climbing stairs. They are brilliant for targeting a range of lower body muscles and increasing heart rate, and the rate at which the stairs rotate can be increased to raise the difficulty.
Rowers: Rowing equipment is designed to simulate the action of boat rowing for the purpose of exercise training. Rowing machines are fantastic at training both cardio and lower body muscle, as the full body is required to both push (with your legs) away from the machine body and row (with your arms).
The Different Types of Cardio
Cardio can be broken down roughly into two main categories:
- Long Cardio (LIIT) – Long cardio (also known as LIIT or low-intensity interval training) is typically defined as any cardio session lasting longer than 30 minutes. This could be a slow and steady jog, cycling or even brisk walking. Long cardio sessions are typically done at a lower intensity to help improve endurance levels.
- Short Cardio (HIIT)- Short cardio (also known as HIIT or high-intensity interval training) is any cardio session lasting less than 30 minutes. These types of cardio are usually done at a higher intensity and are designed to help improve speed and power. Short cardio sessions could include sprints, HIIT workouts or circuit training.
Cardio is banded into intensity brackets and the best exercise intensity level for you depends greatly on several factors such as your ability and your desired outcome.
How intensely should you work?
- High Intensity – High-intensity workouts fall between 70% and 85% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). This level should feel challenging and you should only be able to sustain it for a short period of time (no more than 30 minutes). High-intensity cardio is great for fat loss and improving speed and power.
- Moderate Intensity – Moderate-intensity workouts fall between 50% and 70% of your MHR. This level should feel challenging but you should be able to sustain it for a longer period of time (up to 60 minutes). Moderate-intensity cardio is great for fat loss, improving endurance and heart health.
- Low Intensity – Low-intensity workouts fall below 50% of your MHR. This level should feel relatively easy and you should be able to sustain it for a long period of time (60 minutes or more). Low-intensity cardio is great for improving heart health and recovery.