If you want to be healthy, you have to do cardio. Whether you’re old, young, trim or have a few extra pounds to lose, cardio keeps your heart healthy and helps you manage your weight.
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But cardio doesn’t need to be boring. There are hundreds of activities you can do to improve your cardiovascular fitness and stay in top shape. Choose a few you like and do them regularly.
That activity you do every day to get from point A to point B is also a great way to get and stay fit. Walking is especially suitable for people who are just getting into a fitness routine. It’s also a good activity for people who do more intense workouts and want a gentler activity for recovery days.
The key to getting a good cardiovascular workout while walking is to walk fast enough that you break a sweat and feel a little winded. You can walk almost anywhere, either outdoors or indoors on a treadmill. When you're ready for a little more challenge, add some hills into your route. Walking up hills builds muscle in your legs and glutes.
Hiking is another form of walking, out in nature. It's usually a bit hillier and requires a better level of fitness.
There’s a reason why you see so many people out running and jogging. Not only is it a great way to stay fit and trim, it’s also linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and improved mood.
As with walking, running and jogging are weight-bearing activities, in which you work against gravity. Weight-bearing activities strengthen your bones and can help prevent osteoporosis.
The only difference between running and jogging is the pace. A pace of about 4 to 5 miles per hour is average jogging speed, and anything faster than that is running or sprinting.
You can run outdoors on a sidewalk or bike path, or indoors on a treadmill. You can also run on nature trails. The soft surface is easier on your joints.
To progress from walking to running, alternate a couple minutes of running with a couple minutes of walking. Continue to increase the time you spend running, until you can run for the whole time.
Cycling is another weight-bearing activity, but because you're sitting on the bike, your legs don't bear as much of the weight. This makes cycling a good choice for people who have knee pain.
Whether you like to pedal outdoors or inside on a stationary bike, you'll build muscle in your legs and glutes, as well as your abdominal, arm and shoulder muscles. Cycling uphill outdoors or increasing the resistance on a stationary bike increases the challenge for your muscles and your cardiovascular system.
Check out a spinning class at your local gym. Spinning is similar to riding a stationary bike. Classes are fun, challenging and burn a ton of calories.
Swimming provides all the benefits of walking, running and cycling, but because your body is supported by water, there is a lot less stress on your joints. From a basic dog paddle to the challenging butterfly stroke, swimming is easily modified to suit any fitness level.
Swimming uses nearly all of the muscles in your body, so it's a great way to build total-body strength and muscle tone. You can swim laps in an indoor or outdoor pool, or hit the beach, lake or pond.
Rowing is a low-impact activity that is challenging and fun. It uses all the muscles of the body and builds total-body strength and muscle definition, while improving your cardiovascular fitness.
Rowing machines are harder to find at gyms than treadmills and stationary bikes, but more an more gyms are beginning to offer them. If you've never used a rowing machine, it helps to ask a trainer or other gym employee to show you the basic technique.
Some studios are cropping up in major cities that offer group rowing classes. Similar to spinning classes, an instructor guides you through a fun and challenging rowing routine.
Prefer to row the old-fashioned way? If you live near a lake, you might be able to find a crew club and join a rowing team. Not only will you get a great workout, you'll also meet new people and be able to enjoy the outdoors.
You can actually get a great cardiovascular workout doing something as fun as dancing. In most towns and cities, you can find a variety of dance and fitness studios offering classes in a range of dance styles, from ballet to hip-hop. Develop a new talent, as well as muscular strength, improved balance, a leaner physique and better cardiovascular fitness all at the same time.
If you don't have a dance studio nearby, you can put on music and dance in your living room for a great workout. Just do it vigorously enough to work up a little sweat. You can also find online dance classes to take in the comfort of your own home.
Read more: Benefits of Cardio Kickboxing
7. Sports Teams
If you like basketball, soccer, kickball, baseball or tennis, you can get a great workout and enjoy the camaraderie of team sports. Not only will you play games against opponents and other teams, but you also may meet for training or cardiovascular conditioning sessions in between competitive events.
Not all activities that are considered sports are good cardio activities, though. For example, billiards and bowling don't qualify. Look for a sport that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat for at least 20 minutes at a time.
Combining martial arts techniques with high-energy cardio moves, kickboxing classes are becoming increasingly popular in gyms and standalone studios. Kicking and punching burns calories, builds strength and increases your cardiovascular fitness. It's also a great way to relieve stress after a long day at work.
You can set up a punching bag at home, or sign up for a kickboxing class. Classes will usually involve technique coaching as well as strength-building and metabolic conditioning.
9. Weight Training
While weight training isn't typically thought of as a cardiovascular workout, it can be if you do it in the right way. The key to getting your heart rate up while weight training is taking little to no rest time in between sets.
Supersetting or circuit training are ways to achieve this. Instead of doing all your sets of one exercise and resting in between sets, do one set of one exercise then move right to a set of another exercise without resting. Choose several different exercises and do one set of each. Rest or do some sort of cardio — jumping jacks or jump roping, for example — in between rounds.
Plyometrics exercises, which involve jumping and explosive movements, are also great for building cardio fitness. Examples include jump squats, box jumps, clapping push-ups and burpees.
Mix some of these into your weight training circuit or do an entire workout of plyometrics and you'll see just how challenging it can be for your cardiovascular system.
10. Stair Climbing
Every time you take the stairs, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to your muscles. A long flight or several flights of stairs can get your heart rate up and make you sweat.
Stair-climbing as a cardio activity provides an excellent workout, building strength in your legs, burning calories and improving cardiovascular function. Put on your sneakers and climb stairs in your apartment or office building or hop on a stair climber at the gym.
There are hundreds of activities that count as cardio. Even things you wouldn't think of count as cardio. Mowing the lawn with a push or power mower can be a challenging cardio activity, especially if you have to mow hills or if your yard is large. Raking leaves, chopping wood and cleaning gutters can also count as cardio.
Jumping on a trampoline, hula hooping, doing jumping jacks all count as cardio. Anything you do, the key is to do it vigorously enough that it gets your heart rate up for an extended period of time and makes you sweat.
Read more: Is Walking Cardio Exercise?