Nothing beats the sweat-dripping rush you get from crushing your cardio workout. Whether you're doing speed work on the treadmill or blasting through a boot camp class, the health benefits you receive from an intense cardio session are endless. They are one of the easiest ways for you to get your heart rate up, burn calories and get fit.
If you've recently started working out, you might be wondering how to fit in work, school, kids, dinner and exercise. Yes, it takes some balance, but don't worry, we have you covered. We talked to the experts to find out why cardio workouts are so important and how you can fit them into your busy day.
What Makes a Workout Cardiovascular?
If you're ready to get serious about your health, you might be wondering what makes a workout "cardiovascular". That's a good question and one with a simple answer: any exercise that raises your heart rate.
The key to an effective cardio workout is to keep your heart rate elevated for an extended period. This length of time typically ranges from 20 to 60 minutes.
For substantial health benefits, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or cardio workouts per week.
And if 150 minutes of cardio per week seems like a lot to take on, consider doing 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
What Are the Health Benefits of Regular Cardio Workouts?
With so many benefits, it's no wonder cardio workouts top the list of an overall fitness plan. In addition to burning calories, cardiovascular exercise also strengthens your heart and lungs, helps to slow the decline of cognitive health and decreases your risk of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Plus, it gives your mental health a boost.
Exercise is often an overlooked intervention in mental health care. The research showing that exercise lifts your mood, decreases anxiety and improves the body's ability to withstand and recover from stress is impressive.
In fact, some of the evidence is so compelling that many therapists are using exercise as part of an overall treatment program for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
"Exercise is often incorporated into a treatment plan for depression and anxiety because it provides you with the opportunity to have a different perspective," Dr. Jenny Yip, Psy.D., ABPP, says.
By getting outside or hitting the gym, Yip says you gain physical and mental distance away from the space where you are ruminating over worries or festering in a negative mood. That's why she recommends at least 20 minutes per day of physical activity for patients experiencing depression or anxiety.
Yip likes cardio workouts because they increase your breathing and heart rate and in turn, also increase blood circulation in the brain. Elevated blood flow to the brain has been shown to improve both your mood and attention span.
"Your entire outlook on life can be positively changed by incorporating exercise into your daily routine," Yip. says In the end, both your mind and body will love you for it.
Trainers Share Their Favorite Cardio Workouts
We all get stuck in a rut, especially when it comes to exercise. One of the easiest ways to kickstart your fitness routine is to borrow ideas from the experts who spend all day motivating people to get and stay fit.
Aaptiv fitness trainer Rochelle Baxter-Moncourtois says her favorite cardio workout has to be sprint/speed work on the treadmill. "These kinds of cardio workouts always challenge me because I really have to push myself." Plus, during speed training workouts, your heart rate goes up and back down, which is a great way to burn maximum calories and also to build speed.
Celebrity fitness trainer Astrid Swan says she loves cardio burnouts at the end of her workouts. She focuses on a HIIT training session that includes using heavy weights for different strength training exercises. This cardio workout has her doing 45 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds of rest and repeating that cycle four to five times.
"Already this is giving me a cardio element, but at the end of my workout, I always do a cardio burnout that includes mountain climbers into wind sprint drills, double-unders with a jump rope or burpees to battle ropes," she says.
Sample Cardio Workout You Can Do at Home
If the thought of going to the gym has you hiding under the covers, why not do your cardio workout at home? Swan shares a beginner-level cardio workout you can do at home without any equipment.
No Equipment Cardio Workout
30 mountain climbers
20 jumping jacks
20 seconds of rest
Repeat three times (four cycles total)
How to do the exercises:
- Mountain climbers: Start in a plank position with your hands under your shoulders. Drive your knees in one at a time, forward crunching abdominals, at a quick pace. Repeat with each leg.
- Jumping Jacks: Jump your legs out and in as you raise your arms above your head and then lower them. Keep your hips tucked and your abs engaged.
- Burpees: From a standing position, bend your knees to lower your hands to the floor. Jump your feet back to a plank position, and wave your body all the way down to the floor (think knees, hips, belly and finally chest). Press yourself up to plank position and jump your feet forward wider than your hands. Finally, jump up in the air before repeating the movement.
Sample Cardio Workout You Can Do at the Gym
The next time you head to the gym, try this trainer-approved cardio workout from Baxter-Moncourtois. It's guaranteed to get you fit in time for summer.
Equipment Hopping Cardio Workout
This cardio workout has you alternating between different cardio machines, which helps keep boredom away. Do each machine for the desired amount of time once and then hop onto the next machine.
15 to 20 minutes on an elliptical
15 to 20 minutes on a treadmill
5 to 10 minutes on a rower
For a little variety, consider adding intervals to this cardio workout. If you're a beginner, intervals might consist of walking or rowing at a comfortable pace for a few minutes, speeding it up for a minute or two and then bringing it back to a moderate pace (moderate interval training.)
If you're more advanced, you can try high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT includes periods of intense activity, such as sprints, followed by a short recovery period.
How to do intervals:
- Start with a 20-minute block of time.
- For the intervals, use a ratio of 1:1 (high intensity to recovery).
- Warm-up for two minutes before beginning your first interval.
- Perform the exercise at a higher intensity for two minutes. Then immediately take a two-minute rest for recovery.
- Repeat this combination until you reach 20 minutes.
- If you want a challenge, decrease the rest period to one minute.
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