Cardio is an important but sometimes neglected part of an exercise routine. Whether running, jumping rope or swimming, understanding cardio’s role and how to implement it can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
American College of Sports Medicine defines cardiovascular exercise as rhythmic activities that can be maintained continuously and use large muscle groups, said Jeremy Roden, UTA assistant director for wellness, in an email. It is synonymous with the terms endurance or cardiorespiratory exercise. Examples include cycling, dancing, hiking, long-distance jogging, running, swimming and walking.
Aerobic exercises promote and require oxygen circulation for energy as opposed to anaerobic exercises fueled by the energy within contracting muscles. These exercises are typically done at high intensity in short durations, like sprinting and weight lifting, Roden said.
There is strong evidence to support that aerobic exercise reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes and multiple cancers as well as depression and cognitive function decline, he said.
The American College of Sports Medicine guideline recommends that healthy adults ages 18 to 65 participate in moderate-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days per week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for 20 minutes three days per week.
People might come across the terms steady-state cardio and high-intensity interval training when researching different cardiovascular routines. While these might appear to be separate, the two have some overlap.
Steady-state cardio refers to achieving and maintaining around 60-70% of an individual’s max heart rate for the duration of the exercise, Roden said. This is often referred to as long, slow-distance training.
High-intensity, on the other hand, refers to interval training, between 30 seconds and five minutes, that is performed at or above a person’s max heart rate, he said. However, this can be misleading because steady-state cardio can also be done through interval training.
“Interval is a broad term that just means alternating periods of work with periods of rest. It can be applied to both aerobic and anaerobic training protocols,” Roden said.
Steady-state cardio also allows for accumulating relatively large training volumes without imposing a high-stress level on the musculoskeletal system, he said. This enables people to progress the intensity and duration of the exercises and improves recovery between exercise sets and sessions.
Roden said that people should choose the method they like the best and will do it consistently.
Psychology freshman Madison Johnson said she now does cardio every day after she started working out with her roommate.
She typically rides the exercise bikes, uses the stair machine or runs and is working her way up to a mile around the track, but she said one of her favorite forms of cardio is dancing.
Johnson recommended that beginners start easy, focus on building themselves up at their own pace and take notice of their progress.
While there are risks associated with cardiovascular workouts like musculoskeletal injury, these can be mitigated with proper programming at the right doses and intensities accurately matched to each individual’s health and fitness level, Roden said. People should speak with their doctor first and consider any pre-existing conditions and anomalies.
“The first step is to identify your own barriers to exercise and find ways to address them,” he said.