All About What is Cardio Exercise & Its Benefits

What is Cardio
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What is Cardio?

HIIT workouts. P90X. Kettlebells and burpees. If you’re thinking cardio for weight loss or heart health, better go grab your water bottle and a towel! At the right intensity, cardio can quickly increase your heart rate, deplete your electrolytes and drain so many calories, you’re relaxed and ready for naptime! Whether you work out at the gym, at home or outdoors, there are all kinds of exercises that count.

From climbing stairs and the elliptical to spin classes and burpees, there’s something for everyone. While some use cardio for weight loss, others pencil it in as a daily activity for optimal heart health, which is essential if you’re sedentary, work seated for long hours or are retired.

Here are a few cardio benefits and the best cardio routines to try (for beginners to pros). 

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What is Cardio Exercise?

Maybe you did an online search for what is cardio or what is cardiovascular fitness? Cardio exercise is also referred to as aerobics or aerobic exercise. It’s a rhythmic activity that elevates your heart rate into an area where you can burn calories and fat. People often ask what does cardio mean because cardio is not the same as strength training or lifting weights. It’s also not like yoga where you are standing or seated and stretching, albeit several sun salutations can count as a cardio workout.

According to the CDC, about 150-minutes of moderate cardio each week can help maintain your weight. While cardio increases the oxygen in your bloodstream as you breathe in and out, cardio capacity can vary from one person to the next. A person that exercises daily can do more cardio than someone who is sedentary. Someone that lifts weights all the time may not be able to keep up with a person who takes a spinning class. The weight lifter might feel winded or out of breath because they don’t have the increased lung capacity.

As you age, your cardio capacity tends to decline but don’t let that stop you. The older you get, the more cardio exercise you should include in your daily activities. Walking for 30-minutes to an hour daily can help you to burn calories, increase your heart health and improve your mood.

Tip: No time to work out? Take a 5-10 minute walk! Not sure how many calories you are burning? Buy a Fitbit activity tracker or find the best heart rate monitor:

  • High-intensity workouts are 70-85% of your MHR or maximum heart rate.
  • Moderate to intense workouts are 50-70% of your MHR.
  • Low-intensity workouts are under 50% of your MHR.
What is Cardio
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Cardio Benefits

Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial because your respiratory system has to work harder. Hence, it’s both a mental and physical exercise that offers many benefits.

They include:

Burning calories and fat

Jogging, running, P90X or Zumba can burn quite a few calories. You’re also losing water weight (salt), so be sure to replenish your electrolytes (gatorade, coconut water). People actually live longer if they routinely do cardio.

Promoting better sleep

Exercise increases the quality of rest you get each night. You’re increasing the flow of oxygen in the body and taking in natural endorphins (feel-good hormones) or nature’s pain relievers.

Increasing your lung capacity

When you exercise regularly, you’re taking in more oxygen into your lungs, muscles, heart and bloodstream. Your blood vessels are also expanding.

Decreasing your stress level and anxiety

Cardio improves your mood because of the extra oxygen. A good workout can reduce anxiety, panic and depressive thoughts.

Reducing your risks for developing certain illnesses

Cardio can lower your cholesterol, heart rate and blood pressure. More blood pumped to the heart can decrease the risk of some cancers, strokes, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. 

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How Long Should You Do Cardio Exercise?

Aside from asking what is cardio, another popular question is what is cardiovascular exercise and how does it differ from other exercises? You might also question how often you should exercise.

Beginners might want to start with 10-15 minutes and build up to 30-60 minutes. Ideally, you should workout 3-4 times each week for 60-minutes. However, some people work out 30-60 minutes every day for optimal, long-term health.

What is cardio workout for your health and fitness goals?

  • To maintain general health, do moderate to intense cardio for longer periods or vigorous cardio for shorter time frames.
  • If you have weight loss goals, exercise 300-minutes/weekly with moderate intensity.
  • To maintain your current weight, try 150-300 minutes of moderate to intense workouts weekly.

Stretch before and after each workout and drink plenty of water. If you feel pain, stop. Start with beginner/introductory cardio like Beginner Cardio, Beginner Elliptical or Beginner Biking. The cardiovascular exercises should become easier with repetition.

Warning: Don’t over-exercise as this can cause hairline fractures and other injuries. Vary your workouts and the intensity. If you feel pain in a knee or ankle, for example, rest it a few days and work on arms or other upper body cardio exercises like boxing.

Uncertain about what is cardio and if it’s safe for you? Consult a physician before starting any new regimen. While heart-healthy, some exercises are not recommended if you have pre-existing health conditions (asthma, emphysema).

What is Cardio
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What is the Best Cardio Exercise?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You’ll find all kinds of cardio exercises in DVDs, fitness apps and on YouTube.

At the Gym or at Home

Have a gym nearby and want to sign up? Find an activity that you like and stick to it. Burning calories varies by intensity, weight and height, eating habits and pace.

A few cardio exercises you might enjoy at the gym or at home if you have the equipment include:

  • Walk, jog or run on the treadmill.
  • Try a kickboxing session like Rough Around the Edges. Combine ballet and pilates with Xtend Barre or hit a heart challenge like Tough Mudder. You got this!
  • Do squats, situps, pushups and burpees. Lift kettlebells. Or, try a beginner cross-train workout.
  • Walk on an elliptical or climb steps on a Stairmaster or on your way to/from work or home.
  • Swim or take a water aerobics class.
  • Use a rowing machine but don’t just sit there staring at the TV screen, row!

Note: A 155-lb person can burn:

  • 808 calories running
  • 596 calories biking, doing calisthenics or circuit training
  • 520 calories on the bike or rower
  • 492 calories jogging, dancing and swimming

See more weight examples and which exercises burn the most calories here.

Outdoors or At Home

Some cardiovascular activities can be done outside. You can get fresh air and even make new friends.

Base your workouts on 4 simple factors: Convenience, preference, physical limitations, and time. Hence, mix up your routines (to avoid getting bored).

Examples include:

  • Hiking: Ain’t no mountain high enough! One hour can burn about 500 calories. Stretch before and after. Press in going up the hill, take it easy coming down (or call an Uber) and then repeat!
  • Jumping rope: Take a rope when you travel as you can do this kind of cardio anywhere (hotel room, school, vacation rental).
  • Dancing: Got two left feet? That’s okay! Get that ticker pumping with Zumba full body toning, Ghungroo Bollywood dance, salsa cardio dance or hip hop fit workouts.
  • Organized sports: Noncompetitive football, soccer, softball or baseball can all help to elevate your heart rate.
  • Biking/Cycling: Whether it’s a road or mountain bike, riding is exhilarating (not so much uphill). Note: Ditch the earbuds. You need to hear traffic, pedestrians, emergency service vehicles and other bikers or joggers.
  • Power walking: It’s low-impact so use the treadmill or head outside in good weather. You’ll feel happy and improve your health.
  • Running or jogging: Hit the trails or run in a park. Warm-up first, set goals, break if you need to and wear the right running shoes.
  • Swimming: Swim laps, water paddle or try a kickboard.  
  • HIIT workouts: A 30-minute HIIT workout is high intensity that can spark your heart rate (but so can a defibrillator, so don’t over do it!). Burn, calories, burn!
What is Cardio
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FAQ

What is meant by cardio exercise?

Cardio exercise is a heart-stimulating workout that increases your heart rate and burns fat through sweat.

What is good for cardio?

Cardio can include HIIT workouts, walking, biking, running and jogging. It can also include gym equipment like the stairmaster, treadmill or elliptical.

Does cardio burn belly fat?

Yes! Running and jogging can burn fat. Sit-ups, hula hooping and yoga can also remove belly fat. For yoga, try poses like Cobra, Bow, Plank, Boat and Triangle to target upper and lower belly fat.

Want foods that reduce stubborn belly fat? Eat higher amounts of protein, less salt and avoid junk food and fried or fatty foods. If they align with your dosha, eat grapefruit, watermelon, quinoa, pears, apples, oats, avocado, plums and salmon (but not at once, that might cause belly bloat).

Which cardio burns the most fat?

Low-impact, high-intensity workouts can burn the most calories. Try a 10-minute, low-impact cardio class. Hit an intense floor routine with 600 Seconds. Or, learn the 6 workouts that burn 100-calories in 10-minutes.

Should I do cardio every day?

Yes and no. Mix it up. Exercise for 10-30 minutes at high-intensity some days and 30-60 minutes low-intensity on others. Vary your workouts based on your schedule, pace and fitness goals. But, don’t overdo the cardio or you’ll burn out. Mix it with strength training, yoga and other exercises. You won’t get bored and your body won’t get stuck at a setpoint.