One of the hallmarks of cardiovascular fitness, also referred to as aerobic fitness, is the ability of your body to take in, transport and use oxygen while exercising, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes called CV or cardio fitness, cardiovascular fitness is inextricably linked with health.
Cardiovascular fitness is the result of your heart, lungs, muscles and blood working together in concert while you exercise.
Cardiovascular fitness or aerobic fitness refers to the ability of your body to take in and use oxygen while exercising.
Measuring Cardiovascular Fitness
Cardiovascular fitness is expressed as your VO2 max — the maximum volume of oxygen you can take in through your lungs, pump around your body using your heart and blood vessels and then make use of in your muscles. Cardiovascular fitness can be assessed using a number of tests, including treadmill tests, step-up tests, cycling and rowing tests, according to the American Council on Exercise.
Other factors, such as aerobic muscular endurance, are part of cardiovascular fitness. Rudimentary fitness tests are often hard-wired into common cardio exercise machines so you can assess your CV fitness without having to go to a sports science laboratory.
Factors of Cardiovascular Fitness
As you get fitter — for example after an extended period of performing regular aerobic exercise — your body makes numerous adaptations that result in improved cardiovascular fitness. The muscles involved in respiration — your intercostals and diaphragm — get stronger and more efficient. The capillaries in your alveoli — the tiny blood vessels that supply the air sacs deep in your lungs — increase in number. In short, you become better able to take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
Your heart gets stronger and more efficient as you get fitter, reports the American Heart Association. A fit, strong heart can pump more blood per beat than a smaller, less fit heart. Your muscles also get fitter and stronger as a result of exercise.
The number and size of the capillaries that deliver oxygen to and take carbon dioxide from your muscles increase. The number and size of mitochondria — the energy-producing cells — also increase. As a result of the respiratory adaptations, the term "cardiorespiratory" is sometimes used.
Cardiovascular Fitness Benefits
According to the Cleveland Clinic, cardiovascular fitness is linked to a reduction in blood pressure, reduced risk of developing coronary heart disease, lowered incidence of diabetes, decreased risk of stroke and heart attack, lower resting heart rate, lower fat mass, increased bone mass (for weight bearing body parts — usually the legs in cardio exercise; resistance training more notably increases bone density), improved energy levels and greater resistance to illness and fatigue.
These benefits are attributed to cardiovascular exercise as much as they are to cardiovascular fitness. Benefits decline if exercise is not regular and consistent.
Cardiovascular Workout Definition
To get the most from your cardiovascular workouts, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends you get 150 to 300 minutes of moderately-intense cardio exercise a week; or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous cardio. Choose exercises that use large muscle groups in a rhythmical fashion, such as cycling, running, swimming or rowing.
Go Slow at First
Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial and healthful but does not come without risks. If you have been sedentary for a long time, are significantly overweight, are suffering from any form of cardiovascular or metabolic disease or have any joint problems, seek medical advice before beginning any sort of new workout routine.
- American Council on Exercise: "What Is the Difference Between VT1, VT2 and VO2 Max?"
- American Heart Association: "Endurance Exercise (Aerobic)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout"
- Health.gov: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition: Chapter 4. Active Adults”
- Mayo Clinic: "Fitness Training: Elements of a Well-Rounded Routine"