Updated: Jan 31
Regular cardiovascular exercise is an important component to any fitness plan and has LOTS of benefits.
decrease resting blood pressure and heart rate
decrease chances of a stroke
improves memory and thinking ability
helps manage discomfort from arthritis and helps maintain range of motion in your joints
reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
release of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine during cardio exercise improves your mood (and combats depression)
What qualifies as cardio?
Most activities that increase your heart rate and breathing rate into the moderate-to-vigorous intensity level for 10 minutes or more can be considered cardio. Here are some examples of cardio exercise:
using any of the following cardio machines: stair stepper, elliptical, arc trainer, rowing machine, treadmill or stationary bike
With so many choices, how do I choose the right one for me?
Try any of the activities above (or countless other activities not listed) that interest you. Try to find an activity that works many muscles at once (for example rowing, swimming, boxing, xc skiing). How did your body feel afterwards? Some muscle soreness is completely normal, but pain is not. If you experience pain after or during exercise, something is definitely not right. If you felt pain while running, have your gait analyzed by a running coach. If you have pain after cycling, it could be that your bike has not been properly fitted to your body (this can be done at the bike shop, in your spin class with your instructor, or with a bike fit specialist). Ease into any new cardio exercise, gradually building up the amount of time you do it and the distance you cover on it.
Several years ago, I decided to give running a try after being inspired by my Dad who picked up running and loved it. I went one step further and signed up for a 5k to motivate myself to get outside and train for it. I hated pretty much everything about running, especially the pain I'd get in my low back, but kept doing it because I had set a goal for myself and thought I'd be letting myself down if I didn't complete my goal. I also thought maybe I just hadn't reached the "runner's high" I had heard so much about from all my friends who ran and loved it. However, the more I ran, the more my back hurt. I finally went to the doctor to get the pain checked out, and it turned out I had a bilateral pars defect in my L5 (at some point in my life I had broken both of the little bones that hold the L5 vertebrae in place which caused my L5 to shift, hitting nerves and causing pain). After getting my diagnosis, I decided that no pain is worth the goal I had set and permanently hung up my running shoes.
I decided that low-to no-impact cardio was a much better fit for me, such as using my rowing machine or stationary bike. For a more fun and varied cardio workout I enjoy kickboxing on my punching bag, or doing cardio intervals with my battling rope. On beautiful snowy days, I'll happily go xc skiing or snowshoeing.
How much cardio should I do?
Ideally, shoot for at least 150 minutes of cardio per week (30 minutes per day, 5 days a week). Again, work your way up to that 30 minutes if you are not used to regular cardio exercise. Also, always check with your doctor before starting any new workout plan if you have any health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
Have more questions about cardio? Try working with a personal trainer!