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Definition of Cardio Exercise

by
author image Amy Kreger
Amy Kreger has a Masters degree in health and physical activity and is an adjunct professor instructing anatomy and physiology at the college level. For more than 10 years she has also taught most forms of group exercise, from aerobic dance to group cycling and from kickboxing to yoga.
Definition of Cardio Exercise
Exercise your most important muscle with cardio. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

"Cardio," which is fitness slang for cardiovascular activity, may be one of the most important types of physical activity to engage in. To maintain health, the Centers for Disease Control and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend performing a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Many different types of cardio exist, and you can mix and match different varieties to get the most benefit from your workout regimen.

Broad Definition

Definition of Cardio Exercise
Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that increases heart rate. Photo Credit Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically. The root word "card," or "heart," provides a clue as to why this type of exercise is so important. By providing training that progressively challenges your most vital internal life support network, cardio can improve both the function and the performance of your heart, lungs and circulatory system.

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High Impact

Definition of Cardio Exercise
Among the most popular and enduring of the high-impact cardio activities, jogging and running still attract and retain large numbers of exercise enthusiasts. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Among the most popular and enduring of the high-impact cardio activities, jogging and running still attract and retain large numbers of exercise enthusiasts. High-impact activity involves having both feet off the ground at some point during the exercise, and therefore includes jumping rope, high-impact aerobic dance as well as certain types of advanced strength training. This type of cardio is weight-bearing, meaning that you are supporting your own body weight with your limbs against gravity.

Low Impact

Definition of Cardio Exercise
Walking, hiking and low-impact aerobic dance are the most common forms of low impact cardio. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The definition of low-impact cardio is any aerobic activity during which one foot is kept on the ground at all times. Just because it's low impact doesn't necessarily mean it's lower intensity. This type of cardio is still a weight-bearing activity, meaning that it is good for maintaining healthy bones in addition to conditioning the heart and lungs. Walking, hiking and low-impact aerobic dance are the most common forms of this type of exercise.

No Impact

Definition of Cardio Exercise
Both aquatic exercise and cycling eliminate much of the pounding and jarring associated with land-based activity. Photo Credit Stewart Cohen/Lifesize/Getty Images

Being immersed in water reduces the pull of gravity on your body; in effect, cardio in water is a no-impact activity. Swimming or water aerobics increase your heart rate and burn calories effectively. Bicycling can also be considered a no-impact workout, as the frame and tires of your bike support most of your body weight. Both aquatic exercise and cycling eliminate much of the pounding and jarring associated with land-based activity, making them ideal choices for arthritic conditions and injury rehabilitation.

Athletics

Definition of Cardio Exercise
Many types of sports contain a significant cardio component. Photo Credit Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Many types of sports contain a significant cardio component; examples include soccer and basketball. However, different types of sports, such as doubles tennis and standard volleyball, include a large percentage of downtime during which little or no aerobic activity is occurring. Bear this in mind when selecting athletics for cardio purposes.

Warning

Before beginning or changing your exercise regimen, be certain to consult with your primary care physician. Cardiovascular activity can put significant stress on your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Not all types of cardio are appropriate for everyone. Together, you and your doctor can work out the best plan for your particular needs.

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References

  • "The American College of Sport Medicine's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription"; ACSM; 2006
  • "ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription"; ACSM; 2006
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