What exactly is “cardio” and how does it affect your health, fitness and weight? Cardio exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, is activity that occurs when you work out at a heart rate between approximately 50% and 80% of your maximum heart rate.
At the low end, or 50% to 65% of your maximum heart rate, you burn fewer calories, but still get a good workout if you’re a beginner and you’ll build cardio stamina and muscular endurance so you can do longer, more intense workouts after a few weeks. Examples would be jogging, using an elliptical or joining an aerobics class. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week at this intensity to maintain heart health and a healthy weight.
Many people refer to “cardio” exercise as more vigorous aerobic exercise, performed at a heart rate between 70% and 80% of your maximum intensity. This would be similar to vigorous jogging or work on a machine like an elliptical, exercise bike or rowing machine. The American Heart Association recommends 75 minutes of exercise per week at this intensity to maintain heart health and a healthy weight.
During either type of exercise, you’ll breathe hard, but should still able to talk—if you can’t talk, you’ve gone into the anaerobic zone. Keep pushing yourself until you find the maximum heart rate that lets you keep exercising without stopping for 30 minutes.
Regular cardio exercise helps improve and maintain heart health, burns calories and may raise your HDL, or “good cholesterol” level. You’ll also improve muscular endurance, or your abilit to use your muscles for long periods without cramping or fatiguing to failure.
Find Your Target Heart Range
Many exercise machines come with heart rate monitors, and wristwatch-type heart rate monitors are inexpensive and easy to use, so you may end up purchasing one if you start a regular exercise program. You can also calculate your target heart range for aerobic exercise with an online heart rate calculator, or use a manual formula. While you exercise, keep track of your target heart rate range to see which exercise keep you burning calories.
For example, doing crunches may be difficult and get you breathing hard, but this may not raise your heart rate as much as brisk walking on a treadmill or steady pedaling on an exercise bike.
Don’t get hung up on finding a number—try to find the maximum heart rate you can maintain during the duration of your workout. If you have to keep stopping for breaks, reduce your heart rate until you’re beathing hard, sweating, but able to keep going. Always check with a health professional before starting any cardio program. A quick five-minute phone call with your doctor might be all you need.
Where to buy heart rate monitors.
Keep it Going
Make your goal a longer, rather than harder, workout. You can raise your calories burned per minute working harder, but you might tire after 15 minutes. Find a pace that lets you keep going without taking a break. Circuit training workouts have you taking a break after each circuit, but a more steady cardio workout may be better if you want a longer workout.
Learn how many calories you burn doing different exercises for different lengths of time.
High-impact aerobics, such as jogging, jumping rope or aerobic dancing burns more calories than low- or non-impact workouts like gliding, step workouts, cycling, rowing, swimming, elliptical workouts or walking. However, leaving both feet at once and landing with your full weight on your body for long periods can cause joint and back pain. Check out our article on low-impact exercise for more ideas.
Follow a Pattern
Don’t jump onto a treadmill or elliptical at full speed, then stop and run to the shower or your car without cooling down and stretching. If you want to create a long-term weight-loss and fitness program that won’t break you down, warm up, cool down and stretch properly each time you exercise.