A topic that is constantly discussed in the fitness and weightloss world is Cardiorespiratory Health or Cardio Fitness. While it is generally connected to faster movements like running that raise the heart rate and increase weight loss, cardio health is much more. When discussing cardio fitness, we are discussing fitness activities that promote circulation of blood and better breathing to send oxygen to the entire body during exercise. If someone has poor cardio health they will have a lower level of physical health and find themselves tiring quickly and limiting the amount of exercise they can handle.
Now cardio endurance is actually a measurable item, and can tell you how well your body uses oxygen during activity. This oxygen travels through the body from the heart to the limbs and organs. If your cardio endurance is low, the oxygen, essentially, does not travel as well through the body and the body will fatigue faster. Everyone should be pursuing good cardiorespiratory endurance to improve overall health. Some of the benefits of good cardio health include:
Reduced risk of heart disease and strengthens heart
Reduces risk of many other diseases
Less likelihood of becoming overweight or obese
Increases overall ability to be active
Increased overall metabolism leading to more calories burned in a day
Boosts energy and immune function
Increases lung function
To understand your cardio fitness levels, it is great to visit a health club or seek out a personal trainer who can track this for you. While fitness trackers like apple watches and fitbits can be great for checking immediate heart rates before, during, and after a workout, they often can not definitively place you in a cardio training stage. There’s actually a lot of science behind proper cardio training. Depending on your level of health and your goals, you would actually train in a very different way.
Types of Cardio Respiratory Exercise
Cardio can be done in a variety of ways and it’s important to find the one that works best for you. Oftentimes people think cardio is just running and then they just give up on the pursuit because they don’t like that activity. Other great ways to improve cardio health include:
Sports like soccer
HIIT- High intensity interval training
Other exercises with fast paced movements
How to incorporate cardio into your routine and find balance
The question I am often asked is how much cardio training should I incorporate into my schedule? It’s important to remember, like anything, you can overdo it. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 150 minutes per week of moderate activity which is only 30 minutes 5 times a week. This is completely doable! This doesn’t mean you can only do cardio activities, but refers to the amount of activity to strive for overall. Depending on your personal goals, you may want to incorporate more time spent exercising. It is important to check with your doctor on their recommendations if weight loss is recommended for health concerns. Otherwise, it could be helpful to talk with a Personal Trainer about a plan to fit your specific needs. It's also good to note that cardio training for 60+ minutes more than 5 days a week is not recommended unless you are already experienced in this style of training
Some key things to remember when deciding on an exercise plan are:
Find cardio activities you enjoy
No one wants to repeat activities they don’t enjoy and low adherence is the biggest concern when pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Find activities you love. Know yourself and how to make exercise work for you. If you know that you get bored doing the same activity every day, make sure you have multiple types of cardio activities you can rotate through. Set yourself up for success!
Balance cardio with resistance training
Anytime I am asked about the basics of dividing up exercise time I always remind people it’s important to balance cardio with resistance training. While cardio is good for a lot of things, it does not focus on muscle growth like resistance training. This muscle growth reduces risk of regaining weight, while helping you to become stronger and better adept at completing exercise sessions.
While a scheduled breakdown would change depending on goals, a standard breakdown would include:
- 3-5 days of cardio
- 2-3 days of resistance training
Take rest days
Don’t forget that muscles need time to recover, so it’s important to take 1-2 rest days a week! Reducing or eliminating rest can lead to exercise fatigue and a plateau or even decline in health gains and overall strength.
Prioritize stretching and recovery
Most people underestimate the value in taking time to stretch and foam roll. Stretching prior to your workout can help you to be warmed up and stretching post-exercise can help with overall muscle recovery and lower the chance of lingering muscle pain. This form of recovery also reduces the risk of injury by making sure the muscles are primed for movement. A 5-10 slow warm-up and 5-10 minutes of cool down stretching can make all the difference in performance and recovery.
Balance time spent training for goals
Know your goals prior to starting your lifestyle change. Often we will set very lofty goals and those goals won’t be realistic. Most people can’t go from no training at all to training 6 days a week. It’s a better idea to slowly add in more movement, give yourself time to adjust and find time in your schedule and increase if/when it makes sense for you. Think about the schedule you currently have and how much free time you’ll actually have to commit. Setting too extreme of goals often leads to poor adherence and people giving up because they blame themselves for not reaching that goal. The reality is that it’s not your fault, but the goal you set that’s the issue.
Always set yourself up for success!
So while it may make sense to just hit that treadmill everyday, overall health is more than just how fast or how long you can move. A routine that incorporates cardio, resistance training and rest is the best! A lot of us start out with just cardio and honestly starting is the hardest part. Whatever you decide to do to up your movement is fantastic. I started my fitness journey with just hitting the elliptical 5-6 days a week. I lost a lot of weight but I got bored and noticed that no more change was happening. This is when I challenged myself to start lifting weights and noticed real change in the appearance of my body and felt stronger and more alert. I felt more powerful.
If you need some inspiration to start your journey, here it is! You’ve got this!
Until next time… and remember fitness is for all!