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Cardio Exercise Guidelines

In a previous article, I discussed the components of a well-designed fitness program. Such a program should include cardio, strength training, flexibility, balance, and agility exercises. In this article, Jim Borden, a personal trainer with Fitness Together, a gym located in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, takes a closer look at the cardio aspect of a fitness program.

Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio for short, is any type of activity that increases the work of the heart and lungs. Examples of cardio activities include walking, running, swimming, rowing, and biking. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines issued by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA), adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense cardio (similar to a brisk walk), five days a week, or vigorously intense cardio (rapid breathing and an increase in heart rate) 20 minutes a day, three days a week. These represent minimum guidelines for individuals who are simply looking to improve their health.

The benefits of cardio are numerous. Cardio exercise can play a key role in weight loss, reduce stress, improve cholesterol levels, provide more energy, enable you to sleep better, and reduce the health risks associated with heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

When designing a cardio program, there are four considerations to keep in mind, known as the FITT principles.
Frequency – how often you should engage in cardio activity. Note the guidelines from ACSM/AHA recommend 3 to 5 days per week, depending on factors such as Intensity or Time (see below).
Intensity – how vigorous the activity should be. There are many ways to measure intensity; one of the best is through the use a heart rate monitor. Intensity can range anywhere from 60% to 90% of your estimated maximum heart rate (MHR). A quick and easy way to estimate your MHR is to subtract your age from 220. Thus, a 50 year old would have an MHR of 220-50, or 170. Generally speaking, the longer your workout (see Time), the lower your intensity should be.
Time – how long the workout should last. Again, the ACSM/AHA have offered guidelines with respect to the duration of the workout. Not counting the warm-up or cool down periods, cardio workouts should accumulate to at least 30 minutes per day, if intensity is at a moderate level, or 20 minutes per day if done at a more intense level. If the goal is weight loss, then the cardio session should be longer than these minimum guidelines. If you cannot complete a 20- or 30-minute session all at one time, then accumulating those totals can be split across multiple sessions during the day. However, it is recommended that such sessions include at least 10 minutes of continuous activity at the desired intensity level.
Type – the particular activity that you engage in. Once again, some examples are walking, swimming, and rowing. Some of the considerations in choosing the type of activity to engage in include your enjoyment of the activity, your current fitness level, and your skill level in performing the activity.

Every cardio workout should include at least a 5-minute warm-up. The warm-up could be any activity that gets the muscles moving and the blood flowing, and should be performed at an intensity below the level to be used in the cardio workout. Following the cardio session, there should also be a cool-down period, which could simply be the same type of cardio activity, but at a decreased activity level. The cool down is also an ideal time to engage in some flexibility exercises.

When starting a cardio exercise program, you should start slow and focus on proper mechanics, good posture, and safety. If you cannot meet the minimum guidelines indicated above, then gradually build up to that point by adding a little bit more each time. This will help improve your endurance, and once you have reached the time goal, you can start to tinker with the intensity levels as a way of adding variety to your workouts.

Remember, any movement activity is good for you, so just make a commitment to get started on a cardio program, and you will begin to reap the benefits immediately.

The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your healthcare provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with an appropriate healthcare provider.

Source by Yodle

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