Cardiovascular exercise includes any activity in which you move your large muscle groups for a sustained period while maintaining an increased heart rate. In addition to burning body fat, cardio activities help condition your heart and lungs to move blood and oxygen throughout the body more efficiently. In order to reap the full benefits from cardio activities, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes five days per week. Cardiovascular exercise comes in many different forms so find something that you enjoy. (Movement of the large muscle groups is not necessary for an increased heart rate and for exercise of the heart, but the "vascular" - or blood flow - element is better served by movement of large muscle groups.)
Due to the low impact nature of walking, it is one of the easiest and most convenient forms of cardio. Whether you're new to exercises or a seasoned veteran, take advantage of the benefits of walking and adjust your intensity based on your experience. Simply put on your walking shoes, step out your door and off you go.
Following right behind walking in convenience, jogging or running provides an option for cardio with a slightly higher intensity. Start slowly and work up to more difficult workouts. Once you develop some experience as a runner, vary your speed and terrain to challenge your cardiovascular system. Remember, keep your head up and pay attention to your form to minimize the risk of injury.
Aerobic dance classes vary from very low impact to much higher intensity using tools such as a step and kickboxing. Classes range in theme from Latin dance inspired aerobics to belly dancing. Find something that works for you based on your exercise experience, body type, goals and injury status.
Take an indoor cycling class, ride the stationary bike or hop on your road bike and ride the neighborhood to get the cardio benefits of cycling. With many options, this very low impact exercise can easily be a part of your workout. Cycling is ideal if you experience any lower body orthopedic problems with the knees or hips or if you carry excess weight.
Swimming utilizes the entire upper body and core, making it an effective cardio activity. If you are a beginner, swimming for extended periods of time while maintaining a steady heart rate will be difficult. Build up to longer workouts. Since being in the water eases stress on your joints, water activities such as aerobics or walking work well for those with arthritis or other joint problems.
Not all sports make great cardio activities. Include team sports incorporating constant activity such as soccer, lacrosse and basketball into your program for maximum cardiovascular benefit. Tennis, racquetball and squash make great cardio workouts as well.
Jumping rope challenges your coordination, strengthens the bones and improves your cardiovascular system. Both the lower and upper body benefit from this simple, inexpensive activity that you can incorporate into your routine whether at home or traveling. Learning proper technique is simple and perfected with a little bit of practice.
Elliptical training machines continue to become easier to find and more comfortable to use. Ellipticals vary in that some use the upper and lower body, some only the lower and others provide the option to increase or decrease the angle on the legs. They provide very little impact on the joints of the lower body.
Cross Country Skiing
While requiring some amount of snow and specific equipment, cross country skiing works the entire body for a great cardio activity. In addition to challenging the heart and lungs, cross country skiing works the muscles in your lower body, core and upper body. Learning proper technique is relatively easy.
Rowing combines the driving of the lower body to help the pulling of the upper body for a total body workout. You can use a rowing machine or go outside and actually hop in a kayak or canoe. Rowing is low impact and comes with a relatively low risk of injury. Start slowly and row at a comfortable pace to learn form while you work to build up time or distance.