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cardio training

The Importance of Cardio Exercise

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“Cardio” is probably a word you’ve heard as it relates to fitness, but how much do you know about what this term entails? What is cardio exercise and is it really necessary?

Cardiovascular exercise is equivalent to aerobic exercise and constitutes any physical activity that gets your heart rate into your target zone, where you burn fat and calories. Cardio is a crucial component of any exercise program and should be balanced with a strength-training regimen.

There are several benefits of cardio exercise. Doing regular cardio:

  • Improves heart strength
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Reduces risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some cancers
  • Lowers body fat percentage
  • Increases bone density (when exercise is weight-bearing)
  • Improves sleep
  • Relieves stress
  • Boosts endorphins (aka “feel good” hormones)

When it comes to getting in a cardio workout, you have a multitude of activities to choose from. Running, walking, cycling, hiking, rowing, stair climbing, swimming, kickboxing, Zumba, spin, HIIT — these are just a few of the exercises you can do to get your heart rate up and your blood flowing. There isn’t one form of cardio exercise that’s better than the others. The secret isn’t what you do; it’s how hard you work. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right cardio workout:

Pick an activity you enjoy. The more you enjoy the exercise, the more likely you are to stick with it and make a habit of it. What exercises suit your personality and lifestyle? Do you enjoy working out on your own or do you prefer group exercise?

Think about what’s accessible. How easy is it for you to do the selected exercise? Do you have access to a swimming pool, bicycle or rowing machine? Is there a gym nearby? What exercises can you do at home or around your own neighborhood? What are you able to fit into your schedule at least three days a week?

Be adventurous. Once you get comfortable with exercising regularly, don’t be afraid to step outside the box. Branch out and try something new. Take an exercise class, join a team or start training for a race or competition. Find new ways to challenge yourself to work harder.

How often you do cardio workouts depend on your goals and fitness level. In general, if you’re goal is to improve your health, aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. That’s the amount recommended by the American Heart Association for heart health. If you want to maintain your current weight, you need to fit in 150 to 250 minutes a week. If weight loss is your goal, you need to up your frequency and intensity to 200 to 300 minutes per week and mix moderate and high-intensity exercise.

If you’re new to working out, consider working with a certified professional trainer who can show you the ropes and help you establish a reasonable exercise plan that can be worked into your schedule and help you achieve your health and fitness goals.