What do running, jogging, walking, biking, swimming, Stairmaster and rowing have in common? All of these are examples of cardiovascular exercise – a chief component of any fitness program. Any exercise that increases the work of the heart and lungs is cardiovascular exercise. And, you don’t have to qualify to run a marathon in order to reap its benefits.
In order to reap the benefits of cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the CDC, recommend s the following:
2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week;
OR 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week
OR An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
If this sounds like a lot of time to you, remember that you don’t have to do it all in one day. It’s best to spread your exercise out during the week, into smaller chunks of time. If you take a brisk walk 5 times a week for 30 minutes, you have your 150 minutes. You can break it up even more, but it’s important to continue your activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time, in order to reap the benefits of this type of exercise.
And what are the benefits? They include:
- Improved body image, and self-esteem;
- Increased energy and metabolism;
- Improved heart function and reduced risk of heart disease;
- Decreased body fat and cholesterol;
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis;
- Improved muscle mass;
- Decreased anxiety and depression, and an increase in endorphin production, generating a feeling of well-being;
- Improved sleep; and
- A decrease in physical and emotional pain.
In order to get the maximum return on your time, it’s important to exercise at a sufficient intensity. Anywhere from moderate to vigorous intensity will give you the most benefit, and what may be moderate for one person might be vigorous for another.
One way to measure relative intensity is the talk test. Generally, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity you can still carry on a conversation during the activity. If you’re exercising at a vigorous level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without catching your breath. And, if you can’t talk and do your activity at the same time, you are exercising too hard.
Another simple way to measure exercise intensity is how you feel while you’re doing it — your perceived exertion. Your perceived level of exertion may be different from what someone else feels doing the same type of exercise. An easy workout for one person may feel more difficult to someone less fit.
Your heart rate offers a more objective look at exercise intensity. In general, the higher your heart rate during physical activity, the higher the exercise intensity. Studies show that your perceived exertion correlates well with your heart rate. So if you think you’re working hard, your heart rate is likely elevated.
You can use either way of gauging exercise intensity. You can also use a heart rate monitor, but if you are paying attention to how you feel and your level of exertion, it’s not a necessity.
It’s important to warm-up your body at a lower intensity before engaging in a higher intensity workout, and to cool down as well, by gradually decreasing intensity prior to stopping. Also, pick an activity – or more than one – that fits into your lifestyle and that you enjoy doing. Mix it up. Take a brisk walk with a friend, cycle with your family on the weekends, swim or do the elliptical at the gym. You don’t have to do the same thing every time, and you may discover new activities to include as time goes on. The bottom line is this: Make aerobic activity a regular part of your life and you’ll feel better, look better, and live healthier and younger for years to come.