Cardio is short for Cardiovascular. It is also sometimes known as Aerobic Exercise. The word aerobic means “with oxygen.” In short, cardio is any type of movement that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat and breathe harder.
You are using all your big muscle groups, and your lungs will be breathing deeper and more quickly. Your heart will beat more rapidly as it moves blood throughout your body.
Here are some examples of cardio exercise:
- Running or jogging
- Brisk Walking
- Playing Team Sports like kickball or soccer
How Much Cardio Should I Get in a Week?
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise.
Roughly, this means 30 minutes of raising your heart rate with movement five days a week. Or, if you are going hard, recommendations are for 75 minutes of vigorous cardio, or even a combination of both (1).
This recommendation is for average, healthy adults. Your doctor may suggest something different for you if you have other health conditions or if this is beyond your current fitness level. Note that ideally, this exercise should be spread over your week, not jam-packed into one heart-pounding, cardio session.
Examples of Moderate Aerobic Activities:
- Mowing the Lawn
- Water Aerobics
- A Brisk Walk
Examples of Vigorous Aerobic Activities:
- Jumping Jacks
- Running on a Treadmill
- Jump Rope
What if I get More? Or Less?
More exercise beyond the suggested amounts can add extra benefits. Health benefits appear up to 300 minutes or more a week. However, if you go too far, you can run into problems with overtraining syndrome and overuse injuries. Your exercise should be the right amount for your health and fitness level. If you are a beginner, start slow to see what works for you.
But even if you can’t do 30 minutes a day, even short bursts of exercise with intensity can make a difference to your health. Don’t have time for an extended period of training? That’s okay – science has shown that even a few minutes of movement that causes heavy breathing will help your body in several ways. For example, three ten minute brisk walks will also give you good results.
14 Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise
What does a cardio workout do for you? One significant benefit is that cardiovascular exercise decreases your resting heart rate and blood pressure. This means that your heart doesn’t need to work nearly as hard, which has benefits for your whole body (2).
Here is information on health benefits you will see from cardio exercise:
1. Heart Health
Exercise is excellent for heart health and preventing heart disease. When you exercise, you strengthen your heart. And as mentioned, exercise helps lowers your blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a known risk factor in heart disease. Individuals who exercise regularly also improve their muscles’ ability to draw oxygen from the blood, which means their heart doesn’t have to work so hard. This helps prevent heart attacks.
2. Weight Control
Being physically active also helps you with your weight. Cardio is terrific for burning calories if you are looking for weight loss. Or, if you have already reduced your body fat and want to keep it off, regular activity can help you maintain your weight.
Since obesity can lead to many problems, research shows a reduction in body weight can lead to an improvement in long term health.
2. Builds Aerobic Capacity
Aerobic capacity describes how well your body takes in and uses oxygen. When you have a high aerobic capacity, you can do more because your body doesn’t tire or run out of gas as quickly.
If your aerobic capacity is low, simply walking from your car to the store can feel like a chore.
The good thing is that you can build up your efficiency over time. Exercisers who make a habit of getting plenty of movement see improvements in how much they can do as their aerobic capacity increases, and fatigue decreases.
3. Increases Stamina and Strength
Much like your aerobic capacity, regular cardio exercise builds fitness in your lungs and muscles. If you haven’t done a lot of exercise, you might be tired out after your first day of activity. But over time, your conditioning and endurance will improve.
People who have chronic lung problems, like asthma, may find a lot of benefit in regular physical activity. (Note from the author: I am an asthmatic, but through slowly building my exercise levels every day, I was able to run a marathon.
Talk to your doctor first before starting aerobic exercise and new activity if you do have a diagnosis of types of conditions.)
4. Brain Function
Studies have shown that exercise may combat brain cell deterioration in older adults (2). By helping the brain replace cells, it can help with memory and thinking ability. And again, as blood flow increases, it helps to decrease the health risks of diseases like stroke.
Improved brain function alone is a smart motivation to make cardio part of your daily goals.
5. Lowers Risk of Diabetes
A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins showed that Cardio Activity combined with Strength Training could reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by over 50% (3).
Blood pumping activity helps the muscles do a better job of processing glycogen. When this system is impaired, that leads to high blood sugar levels and then diabetes.
6. Lowers Stress Levels
Did you know that exercise releases endorphins? These are chemicals in your brain that help to improve your mood. It can also help as a meditation in motion. Ever play a group sport and feel like you are in “the zone”? This focusing of your attention has the result of helping shed stressful thoughts.
7. Better Sleep
Exercise also helps you sleep better. And better sleep has been shown in studies to help with cognitive function, depression and anxiety, weight loss, and stress.
You do want to take care of exercises before bed, though, as some people find it stimulates their mind, and they find it hard to sleep right after. Find times and intensities of movement that gives you the best effects.
8. Reduces Joint Pain and Stiffness from Arthritis
People who have arthritis and joint pain symptoms sometimes use that as a reason not to be active; however, for many of the benefits listed in this article, a person with arthritis should exercise.
People with arthritis also often have weak muscles, decreased pain tolerance, and stiff joints, which are all things that can be helped by movement. If you do have arthritis, see your physician for the best advice on how to get started.
9. Reduces the Likelihood of Disease
Consistent cardio workouts help in the reduction of so many different conditions. It addition to all of the items already mentioned, it can help reduce the risk of stroke and some types of cancer (4).
Besides, regular cardio exercise can strengthen your immune system. It can also help reduce the chances of osteoporosis.
10. Can Improve the Condition of Your Skin
Yep, regular activity can give you clearer, better skin. Aerobic exercise improves blood flow and circulation, leading to more attractive and healthier skin. Good skin is excellent for increased confidence.
12. Improves Sexual Function
Another of the benefits? Did you know that one of the advantages to heart pumping cardio exercise is a better sex life? Again, exercise helps your blood flow better through your blood vessels. This means an exercise program can help decrease the incidences of erectile dysfunction in men and can help with increased arousal in women.
13. Improves Balance
In a study in Age and Ageing, women between 72-87 years old were given a dance-based aerobic class with a variety of movements, including balancing on a single leg, squatting, and marching. The goal was to see if a class like this, done for a frequency of 3 times a week for 12 weeks, would make a difference.
They found that compared to others in a control group. these women had better balance and improved stability, and grip strength (5).
14. Bones and Joints
Physical activity combined with resistance exercise can help build strong bones. Weak bones are a common problem for older adults. You can build bone density through a quality diet and aerobic exercise. Not only does aerobic exercise raise your heart rate and increase lung capacity, but it also helps promote the growth of new bone.
Also, joints stiffen with age. One way to combat that is by moving your joints regularly with cardio exercises. Exercise may also reduce inflammation, which is so crucial to aging bones.
Combining Aerobic Exercise and Resistance Training
So far, we have been talking about all of the rewards to increasing your heart rate with aerobic exercise. But for the most significant impact, you will want to balance your exercise routine with workouts that boost energy as well as promote muscle growth. If you don’t feel like pumping iron at the gym, even bodyweight exercises can help improve performance.
The bottom line is that a workout routine that helps boost your heart rate is good news for your entire body. The changes you make will help you stay in shape and cause reductions in health-related areas.
If you are new to this, start with a proper warm-up and then slowly increase volume. You don’t need a much in the way of equipment to improve your health, no need to purchase fancy gym machines. Here are some simple options and tips to get started:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can
- Go for a morning jog
- Meet a friend for a pick-up basketball game or a game of tennis
- If you have kids, take them to the park and run around with them
- Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. “How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 27 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916.
- Team, Vascular. “From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 14 May 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/head-toe-benefits-cardio-workout-infographic/.
- “7 Heart Benefits of Exercise.” 7 Heart Benefits of Exercise | Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/7-heart-benefits-of-exercise.
- “10 Great Reasons to Love Aerobic Exercise.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 5 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/aerobic-exercise/art-20045541.
- Shigematsu, et al. “Dance‐Based Aerobic Exercise May Improve Indices of Falling Risk in Older Women.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2002, academic.oup.com/ageing/article/31/4/261/23685.