Cardio or bust

That’s right folks, it’s gym guide time! This issue, we’re going to take a break from weight training and examine cardiovascular exercise.

That’s right folks, it’s gym guide time! This issue, we’re going to take a break from weight training and examine cardiovascular exercise.

What is cardiovascular exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise is more appropriately called “aerobic exercise,” but I often use the terms interchangeably. In fact, I will use the word “cardio” a lot within this article for the sake of brevity. In any case, what I’m referring to is exercise during which the main goal is strengthening or maintaining the cardiovascular system (i.e. heart, veins, blood vessels, lungs). Cardio exercise differs from anaerobic exercise (like weight training) in that it requires large amounts of oxygen and is generally much longer in duration. For example, a jog is a rather constant form of exercise, whereas a weight training session is a series of multiple “bursts” of activity, each extremely short in duration by comparison.

Why engage in cardiovascular exercise?

We’ll start with reason the majority of us care about the most: We don’t want to get fat! Call it a vain pursuit, but at least it’s honest. The direct cause of fat gain is consuming more calories than one expends. By engaging in regular exercise, we burn more calories. All forms of exercise will burn calories, but cardiovascular exercise tends to burn a few more calories than a weight training session of equal intensity and duration. Of course, you should regularly engage in both strength training and cardio exercise, but cardio just happens to be the star of this article.

Vanity aside, regular exercise also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. These maladies are not only rather dangerous, but can also be quite costly. It’s much more practical to spend a dollar or two per day on prevention than thousands on medication and treatment in the years to follow.

Beyond cardiovascular health, the weight-bearing aspect of exercise also helps to increase bone density, which is especially important for women as they age. As an additional bonus, research has also found that regular exercise can improve mood.

Forms of cardiovascular exercise

There are too many forms of cardio exercise to list, but here are few options: walking briskly, jogging, swimming, rowing, cycling, the fancy new Krankcycle I’m using in the photo and so on. Ideally, cardio should be at least somewhat enjoyable, so an exercise partner or an mp3 player is highly recommended. Personally, I’m a huge fan of listening to audio books during cardio.

Almost anything can qualify as cardio exercise, but they key is that it gets the ticker pumping and gets the breathing up over an extended period of time. Appropriate intensity is going to vary from person to person, but a common recommendation is to use the “talk test” as a gauge. The average trainee who is merely exercising for their health should be able to carry on a light conversation while exercising. Just remember that intensity should be held fairly constant, excluding a warm-up and cool-down period.

How much cardiovascular exercise do I need?

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. I’d recommend splitting that up into five sessions of 30 minutes each, but it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference and scheduling. More advanced trainees that engage in vigorous exercise (too difficult to carry on a conversation while exercising) can get by with half that amount.

For those looking to lose weight, obviously greater amounts of physical activity will be beneficial. A word of caution, however: It is extremely difficult and time-consuming to out-exercise poor dietary habits. In the long run, most trainees will find insane amounts of exercise coupled with willy-nilly dietary habits to be an unsustainable practice. Optimal results can be obtained through combining sensible eating habits with sensible exercise habits.