Regardless of age, I am sure most of us are well aware that Cardiovascular Exercise is crucial for improving general health and fitness levels.
Unfortunately, cardio or aerobic exercise as it is also called, is more than often viewed as “a real pain in the you know where”.
Most baby boomers I know find cardio programs to be boring and repetitively hard work.
But this need not be the case………do you want to know the all-important facts about the effectiveness of a well-designed cardio program that could end up saving your life?
It is well documented that regular cardio exercise will reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, blood clots, and even depression. And better still, here is some good news that makes doing cardio even more attractive – it burns calories big time, which leads to weight loss.
The American Heart Association recommends “at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise”. This equates to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week. Not so much when you say it quickly.
What Is Aerobic Exercise?
Any exercise which gets your lungs and heart working harder (than sitting on the couch) counts as aerobic exercise. Any activity that makes use of your larger muscle groups is ideal, because these movements require increased oxygen intake and greater blood flow to perform.
Activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling are perfect.
You can also make use of various exercise machines in your gym such as the treadmill, elliptical trainer, rowing machine, or exercise bike.
So How Much Cardio Do I Really Need to do?
If you’re new to regular exercise (or haven’t done any for quite a while), it’s very important to take it easy at first to let your body and muscles adapt to the increased activity load.
For general fitness, 60 minutes of cardio each week is a good place to start. You can split this into 20 minute sessions, 3 times a week.
If your goal is to lose weight, then more activity is better. But this can be difficult when your stamina is low. This is why it’s important to start with a low intensity activity, such as walking, if you’re currently out of shape.
Once your endurance has improved, you can increase your sessions to four then five times a week. You can also increase the duration to 45 minutes.
This can be an intense jump though so just remember this; you don’t have to do 45 minutes in the one session but this should be your eventual aim. You can spread the activity out into several sessions per day, and still retain the health benefits.
Ideas such as using the stairs instead of the lift at work or getting off the train or bus one or two stops before your destination and walking the last bit are excellent ways of increasing your daily exercise regime.
If weight loss is your goal, you must also plan your diet carefully before you focus on exercise. This is because your diet has a much larger effect on your bodyweight than exercise so make sure your diet involves a healthy calorie deficit (i.e. calories consumed versus calories used) of good quality clean food.
Sorry to have to tell you this but no amount of cardio exercise will counter an over-eating/drinking habit of fast food and sugar laden fizzy drinks or an excess of beer and spirits mixed with Cola (ok….to be fair I will allow the odd Scotch on the rocks).
How Intense Should My Cardio Exercise Be?
Monitoring the intensity of your workout is advantageous. A common misconception is that you need to push yourself to maximum intensity to reap any benefits from exercise.
The old adage of “no pain, no gain” isn’t true. As we get older we do exercise for functional reasons and to improve our quality of life. We want to feel energized not sore and sorry for ourselves.
Another misconception is that super-low intensity is equally beneficial.
This isn’t true, either.
The answer lies somewhere between these two opposites.
Aim to work at 70% to 80% of your maximum intensity (heart rate). To calculate this, I suggest you invest in a good quality heart rate monitor. This will allow you to stay within your target heart rate zone with precision.
As you become fitter varying your heart rate throughout each session (think higher intensity circuits or something designed by your personal trainer) will pay even bigger dividends but you need to get your fitness up to an intermediate level before even thinking of doing anything like this.
Some forms of gym equipment will have a heart rate monitor built into the machine but many of these are not overly accurate. Having your own personal heart rate monitor is more accurate, because you can customize all of the settings to you, personally. Also, being a portable piece of equipment you can use it where ever you choose to do your exercises.
A problem you may face is being able to maintain your target heart rate for 45 minutes.
If it’s too difficult, the answer is to scale back the intensity, and possibly reduce the duration of the exercise as well. Just remember it takes time to build your body up to these higher levels of fitness. Just take notice of your body……it will always tell you how it feels.
If this is the case for you, please don’t feel discouraged. It is quite normal.
The ideal method is to gradually work up to your target level over several weeks or even months. You don’t want to be killing yourself on the treadmill or exercise bike in the early stages of your program by forcing yourself too hard too early.
Gradual improvement is by far the best solution to reach you fitness goals and maintain them over the longer term.
Take the Talk Test
To make sure you aren’t working harder than you should be, talk while you exercise (but I don’t mean for you to participate in a talk fest).
Just a few sentences will do. You should be able to form a coherent sentence. If you can’t breathe easily enough to speak, then you’re working too hard.
Here’s a tip from an old hand: If you’re new to regular exercise, pushing yourself too hard too early is not a wise move. It will cause you to burn out quickly and lose your enthusiasm and motivation to continue exercising.
Thirty minutes of a slightly lower intensity is better than only 30 seconds of maximum intensity. Also, if you push yourself too hard, your chance of injury rises dramatically, and that is something we don’t want to happen.
Cardio exercise is tough for a beginner or someone who hasn’t exercised for quite some years, but, quite amazingly, you will find that within three to four weeks of regular workouts you’ll feel better and your fitness levels will have increased quite substantially.
Here’s a good tip to keep you on the straight and narrow: “When and if you get to that stage of feeling like quitting, think about why you really started.”
It may seem hard to imagine, but the rush of accomplishment you’ll feel after 45 minutes hard slogging in the gym, pounding the pavements or on your favorite exercise machine, can become quite addictive.
Once you start seeing the results, it becomes much easier to stick with your cardio program, so don’t give up too early and miss out on all the benefits of becoming a better you! Take it from me, it will add life to your years.
So take heed. “Cardio fitness is like marriage; you can’t cheat on it, and expect it to work!”