Cardio exercise was once more commonly known as aerobic exercise. It is an activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it up while you workout. Cardio along with strength training and stretching can help you stay active and healthy throughout your life. Here are some cardio basics:
The Benefits of Cardio Exercise
There is strong evidence that regular cardio exercise can:
Examples of Cardio Exercise
There are many forms of cardio exercise. Look for activity that uses large muscle groups like those in your legs. It can be indoor or outdoor, machines or just you. Examples include:
- Group exercise classes like dance or kickboxing
- Bicycling or cycling indoors
- Cross-country skiing
- Playing team sports that involve running, such as basketball and soccer
It is likely safe to start a light exercise program. Check with your doctor if you have had recent injuries, chronic illness, or heart problems. Most often they will support exercise but may have some things to look out for.
Look for exercise that you may enjoy. Consider help to get started. Trainers, gyms, online or in person classes can help. They can show you how to do things safely. They can also give you motivation.
How Often, For How Long?
Start slowly and build up as you feel able. Cardio exercise goals from US Health and Human Services include:
- Adults aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate** or 75 minutes a week of vigorous cardio activity. You may also combine moderate and vigorous movement. The time goal for this would fall between 75 to 150 minutes per week.
- 300 minutes a week of moderate or 150 minutes a week of vigorous cardio activity will lead to better benefits. or a combination of both. You may also combine moderate and vigorous movement.
- Each workout should be at least 10 minutes. Spread workouts throughout the week.
**Moderate level you should be able to talk during the workout. Vigorous level you can't say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Older adults should follow the same plan but keep in mind:
- Chronic conditions are more common in older adults. Exercise intensity and time may need to be changed. Sometimes switching the type of exercise itself may help.
- Consider exercises that may help improve balance.
- Match intensity to your overall fitness level. It may start off very light but any exercise is better than none.
Children and adolescents have the following key guidelines regarding aerobic activity:
- Aim for 1 hour or more of physical activity daily.
- Most of the hour should be either moderate or vigorous activity
- Activity with vigorous play should be included at least 3 days a week
Tips for getting started:
- Start slowly. Try 10 minute bouts of exercise if you haven't been very active. You can do them throughout the day such as 10 min in morning, 10 min at lunch, and 10 min after dinner.
- Use a warm-up. This is a light level of movement to help loosen muscle and joints and start to raise heart rate. It may ease discomfort in workout.
- Slowly increase the intensity of your activity. Starting with too much too soon can make you very sore or can even lead to injury. This may delay return to activity.
- Cool down after a workout. This is just working a lower intensity until heart rate and breathing come down to a normal rate. It will also let you pause and reset after a hard workout. A quick stop can cause lightheadedness.
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2020.
Physical activity and health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/index.html. Accessed July 15, 2020.
Last reviewed July 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 7/15/2020