Cardiovascular Exercises


Cardiovascular exercises strengthen the heart and lungs by increasing your heart rate while you exercise your muscles.  Cardiovascular fitness has many benefits, including:

  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Increased metabolism
  • Burns a lot of calories- great for a weight loss program
  • Helps control diabetes
  • Reduces stress and depression


Cardiovascular exercises include any exercise that gets your heart rate up, such as very brisk walking, riding a stationary bike, using an elliptical trainer, dancing, or doing an aerobic workout routine.  In order for an exercise to be considered part of a cardiovascular fitness program, it must get your heart rate up.  Exercises such as weight lifting can be an important part of a fitness program, but this is not a cardiovascular exercise.

So how high does your heart rate need to be in order for an exercise to be considered cardiovascular?  There is a formula you can use to determine the correct range for you.  Subtract your age from 220.  Your heart rate should be between 60% and 90% of that number.  The formula is 220 – your age X .60 and 220 – your age X .90. 

For example, let’s take a 30 year old man.  The formula is 220 – 30 = 190.  190 X .60 = 114 and 190 X .90 = 171.  So his heart rate while exercising should be between 114 and 171.

You can take your pulse while you are exercising to make sure you are working out hard enough.  An easier, though less accurate, way to tell if you are working hard enough is known as the “talk test.”  You should be able to say a few words, catch your breath, then carry on talking.  If you are able to talk through the workout, then you aren’t working hard enough.  If you can’t talk at all, however, you are overdoing it.

When you are just beginning, you may find that you have trouble keeping your heart rate up for an entire workout session.  That’s OK.  As your fitness level improves, you will find you are able to work harder for a longer period of time.

It is recommended that you engage in cardiovascular exercises three to five times per week for 20 to 45 minutes each session.  Don’t go longer than 45 minutes, because then the catabolic hormone cortisol will increase and you risk losing muscle tissue and protecting fat.

For best weight loss results, perform your cardiovascular exercises on an empty stomach since your stored carbohydrates (glycogen levels) are lower at these times, so the body is able to access fat stores more easily.  If you exercise right after a meal, you burn carbs instead of fat.  (You’ll still be burning calories, though, so it’s still good for weight loss).

To keep your cardiovascular fitness routine fresh and challenging, you can do different activities on different days- for instance, take a dance class on Monday, go biking on Wednesday, and do an aerobics workout video on Friday.  .

Here is a partial list of cardiovascular exercises you can choose from to make up your cardiovascular fitness routine:

  • Brisk walking, jogging, or running
  • Using a treadmill
  • Using a stair stepper machine
  • Biking outdoors
  • Riding a stationary bicycle
  • Exercising on an elliptical trainer
  • Dancing
  • An aerobics or step aerobics routine
  • Exercising on a mini trampoline
  • Swimming
  • Sports like basketball or soccer, where you stay active

Make your cardiovascular fitness routine more fun by listening to upbeat music and/or working out with a partner.  You can alternate your cardiovascular activities with strength training for a complete fitness program. 


As a precaution, be sure to speak to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.


More than cardiovascular exercises on our benefits of exercise page

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