Cardio exercise is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. It involves moving the large muscle groups in your arms, legs and core over a sustained period of time to keep your heart rate at or above 50 percent of its maximum. The more you do this type of exercise, the better your cardiovascular system becomes at transporting oxygen to your muscles and other tissues. It also improves your ability to burn more calories to help you lose weight or maintain your weight if necessary. In addition, regular cardio exercise can reduce your risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, and boost your mood by triggering the release of endorphins, which are mood-boosting neurochemicals.
If you can’t run up a flight of stairs without getting winded or have trouble keeping up with your kids or grandkids on a walk around the block, you probably need to get more cardio in your life. If you are ill, elderly, overweight or pregnant, speak with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Regardless of your age, gender or current level of fitness, you should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity heart-pumping activity each week, according to the American Heart Association. This includes walking, swimming and cycling, along with activities like stair-climbing and jogging. It may be helpful to have a fitness expert or trainer guide you through your first few workouts.
To gauge your fitness level, time yourself on a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) run or walk. Generally, if you can comfortably finish the run in less than 20 minutes, you have a good level of cardiovascular fitness; anything above that indicates you need to do more cardio.
Aerobic exercise also helps you manage your weight, which is important for both losing excess body fat and preventing obesity. To lose weight, you must expend more calories than you ingest; to maintain your weight, you need to balance the amount of food you eat with the number of calories you burn through physical activity and other factors such as metabolism.
Having an excellent level of cardiovascular fitness can help you achieve both of these goals, because it means you can expend more calories in a shorter period of time. Cardio also reduces your risk for developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes by lowering your cholesterol and increasing your levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol.
It can also increase the strength and mass of your muscles, if you are not too aggressive in your cardio training. But intense aerobic exercise can cause a shift from fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscles, which may not be optimal for athletes who want to maximize power and speed. Therefore, if you plan to incorporate more vigorous forms of cardio into your workouts, consider alternating them with higher-intensity interval training or strength-training sessions. cardio fitness