Cardio, short for cardiovascular, is a form of exercise that benefits your aerobic system--your heart, lungs and blood vessels. To get the most benefit from your cardio workouts, you should perform three 20-minute sessions per week ensuring that your heart rate is between 60 to 90 percent of your maximum, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Longer workouts burn more fat and are good for weight control. There are countless choices for cardio exercises, from various forms of dance to rebounding and jumping jacks to a session at the gym.
For the less-fit, walking provides a good workout. If you are using walking as a cardio exercise, walk briskly enough so that you are slightly out of breath and warm. Use your arms to intensify your walking or wear a backpack to increase the difficulty of your workout. Walking can be performed outside or on a treadmill.
As your fitness improves, you may progress from walking to jogging. Jogging is essentially slow running and can be performed either outside or on a treadmill. Because jogging is a high-impact activity, make sure you wear supportive and cushioned shoes to minimize the risk of injury.
Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be performed both outside and inside. There are a variety of bikes you can use outside, including mountain bikes, road bikes and hybrids. If you choose to cycle on the road, you should always wear a helmet and follow traffic rules. Cycling indoors can be done on recumbent (leaning back) and upright bikes, or you can participate in studio cycling classes at the gym.
Choose indoor and outdoor rowing competitively or for recreation. Rowing uses both your arms and legs, making it a good whole-body workout. Rowing is a non-impact activity that makes it suitable if you suffer from knee or back problems or are particularly heavy. Because rowing uses your lower back, it is important to get advice on correct rowing technique to ensure maximize rowing benefits while reducing any risk of injury.
Jumping rope is popular with boxers and is a cheap, effective workout. Learning to jump rope may take you a while but once you have mastered the techniques, you will have a form of cardio you can do almost anywhere. Jumping rope is a high-impact activity so you should always wear supportive and cushioning shoes.
Cross trainers use the arms and legs together, which make them good calorie burners. There are a variety of manufacturers and models available but most machines use a non-impact elliptical leg action that reduces the pressure on your knees and makes cross trainers ideal if you suffer from knee problems.
Steppers replicate the action of climbing a flight of stairs and are a low-impact lower-body activity. Steppers can be either endless staircases that rotate where you have to keep pace with the moving steps or pedals that you push down on alternately. Both designs are effective cardio exercises and will also tone your legs.
Upper-body bikes, those that require you to pedal with your arms, are a useful alternative to most other cardio exercises that rely on the legs. Upper-body bikes are usually wheelchair accessible.
- "ACSM's Resources for the Personal Trainer"; American College of Sports Medicine; 2009
- "Exercise for Heart and Health"; Barbara J. Fletcher, MD, FACC, FAHA Gerald F. Fletcher, MD, FACD, FACC John D. Cantwell, and DO John Presotti; 2008