“Cardio” is an accepted nickname for cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. This type of exercise works the lungs and heart muscle to increase its efficiency obtaining and pumping oxygen and nutrient carrying blood around the body. Obviously, the better the heart and lungs work, the more healthy you will be, so it is very worthwhile to start a cardio exercise program even if you are not trying to lose weight.
Many people are not patient enough to go about starting aerobic (cardio) exercise correctly and often quit soon due to injury or exhaustion without achieving any real results. My first word of advice is to be patient, and proceed slowly. There are 4 things to consider when starting cardio known to fitness professionals as the FITT principle (Frequency, Intensity, Type, and Time). Simply put, that means choose something you like to do (Type) several times a week (Frequency) for a particular amount of minutes (Time) at a certain effort (Intensity.) It is important to increase only one of these things at a time as you continue your cardio program to keep you safe.
The type of exercise you choose is entirely up to you, but to be considered cardio, it must keep your heart rate elevated for a minimum of 10 minutes. Do not choose an activity you don’t enjoy simply just because it burns more calories. You will end up quitting. There are many appropriate exercises such as walking, biking, hiking, dancing, running, rowing, and kickboxing. At first choose one thing, but as you get going, feel free to add as many as you like. Variety will keep you exercising for life. The types of exercises you choose should also be based on your ablility. Just as a baby doesn’t start walking before crawling, do not start running before you can walk. Also, it is important to consult your doctor before embarking on an exercise program to rule out any possible medical issues, especially if you are over 40 and have health risks such as smoking or family history of heart disease.
Frequency and Time:
Beginning exercisers should start with no more than 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week at a moderate pace. Build slowly and appropriately toward the standard recommendation of 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week (30 minutes, 5 times a week.) If you have done nothing for a long time, it’s important to allow your body sufficient time to adapt to exercise. When what you are doing feels easy, that is the time to add more times per week or more minutes per session. Add frequency and time slowly. It will keep you injury free.
One of the most misunderstood concepts of fitness is intensity. Somehow people think they either have to work so hard that they can hardly breathe, or be able to have a full-on conversations to exercise safely. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Many people use heart rate to guide their intensity. It is a good method, but can also be confusing. Subtract your age from 220, then multiply that number by .80 and .60 to give you a range. For example, if you are 40 years old, you would want to stay inside a heart rate range of 144 and 108 beats per minute (220-40=180;180x.80=144 and 180x.60=108.) Heart rate range is only an estimate and does not necessarily mean you are at the right intensity to achieve your goals. A simple way to gauge this, in addition to using appropriate heart rate guidelines, is called the “talk test.” Simply, can you say a phrase or two, but not have an easy conversation? If so, that is probably a good intensity. As it feels easier to talk, that is a sign that you can increase your intensity.
Now that you know the basics of beginner cardio, it is time to get off the couch and get started.
By Mary Miriani; BA Exercise Science; ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
Reality Fitness, Inc. Naperville, IL