Cardiovascular training, or cardio, is essential to any fitness routine. It involves exercise that increases your heart and breathing rates, such as running, cycling, swimming, brisk walking, or circuit training. Cardiovascular training provides numerous benefits for your health and fitness, including improving heart health, reducing stress, and boosting energy levels. In this blog post, I’ll dive into The Role of Cardiovascular Training in Your Fitness Routine.
One of the main benefits of cardiovascular training is that it improves heart health. When you engage in cardio exercises, your heart rate increases, making your heart stronger and more efficient at pumping blood. This can help lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease, and improve your overall cardiovascular health.
Another benefit of cardiovascular training is that it can help reduce stress. When you bump your heart rate, your body releases endorphins, natural mood-boosting chemicals. This can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve your overall mental health. Additionally, the rhythmic nature of cardio exercises, such as running or cycling, can also be meditative and calming.
Cardio can also help boost your energy levels. Your body releases adrenaline and other hormones to help you feel more alert and energized. Additionally, regular cardio training can help improve your endurance, making it easier to perform everyday activities and activities you enjoy. Cardio makes life easier! No one wants to be out of breath doing daily tasks.
So how much cardio should you do, and at what intensity? We like to surf the curve of cardio intensity. Moderate-intensity exercises, such as resistance training, brisk walking or cycling, should feel challenging but still allow you to hold a conversation. Vigorous-intensity exercise, such as running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), should feel hard and make it difficult to have a conversation. Both types of exercise can benefit, but it’s essential to work within your fitness level and gradually increase the intensity over time.
Most people have a fitness tracker and can use your heart rate as a monitor for intensity. There are several different heart rate zones, each corresponding to a different level of effort and providing additional training benefits. In addition, using a heart rate monitor can help you scale up or down.
The five main heart rate zones are:
- Zone 1: Very Light (50-60% of maximum heart rate). This zone is for warm-up, cool-down, and recovery. It is a low-intensity zone that can be maintained for long periods. This zone is ideal for beginners and those looking to improve their cardiovascular fitness.
- Zone 2: Light (60-70% of maximum heart rate). This zone is for endurance training and is ideal for building an aerobic fitness base. This zone is the foundation that allows you to do more work or train longer. It is the most important zone, allowing you to work in the other zones longer. It can be sustained longer than Zone 1 but allows for comfortable conversation.
- Zone 3: Moderate (70-80% of maximum heart rate). This zone can increase the strength and efficiency of the heart and lungs. This zone requires moderate effort, and you should be able to breathe comfortably but feel that you exert moderate effort. Zone 3 can help to increase the strength and efficiency of your heart and lungs, improving your body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise.
- Zone 4: Hard (80-90% of maximum heart rate). This zone is for anaerobic training and is ideal for improving speed, power, and muscular endurance. Training in this zone increases the body’s ability to tolerate and recover from high-intensity exercise. This zone requires a high level of effort and can only be sustained for shorter periods. Zone 4 is typically where HIIT should occur.
- Zone 5: Maximum (90-100% of maximum heart rate). This zone is for peak performance and is used for interval training, high-intensity training, and competition. Exercise in this zone improves maximum oxygen uptake and increases speed and power. However, this zone requires maximum effort and can only be sustained for very short periods.
It is important to note that maximum heart rate varies from person to person and can be influenced by age, fitness level, and genetics. A general formula for estimating the maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. However, consulting with a healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program is recommended, especially if you have any medical conditions or are taking medication that may affect your heart rate.
The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) provides physical activity guidelines for different age groups and populations. For example, the CSEP recommends that adults aged 18-64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
Generally, we tell clients to add Zone 2 training a few times a week for periods of up to 30-45 minutes and add in Zone 3 and 4 a few times a week. But don’t be afraid of Zone 5. Of course, this depends on your current fitness and health status, so consult a fitness professional to help you navigate.
When choosing a type of cardio exercise, it’s essential to consider your interests, goals, and fitness level. Running, cycling, swimming, stairs, and brisk walking are all popular forms of cardiovascular training. Other options include dance and group fitness classes focusing on interval training. It’s important to choose an exercise you enjoy and can maintain consistently over time.
In addition to traditional cardio exercises, there are many ways to incorporate cardiovascular training into your daily life. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or cycling to work, and doing household chores such as vacuuming or gardening can provide a cardiovascular workout. Additionally, incorporating intervals of higher-intensity exercise into your daily activities, such as walking or jogging intervals, can also provide cardiovascular benefits.
Overall, cardiovascular training is an essential component of any fitness routine. It provides numerous benefits for your physical and mental health, including improving heart health, reducing stress, and boosting energy levels. However, when incorporating cardiovascular training into your routine, it’s important to consider the type, duration, and intensity of the exercise and choose activities you enjoy and can maintain consistently over time.
Shara Vigeant, BA, NSCA-CPT, CFSC