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Regular exercise or physical activity is essential for maintaining cardiovascular health, as it ensures the heart is pumping blood to every part of the body as efficiently as it is meant to. Leading a sedentary lifestyle or long periods of inactivity, on the other hand, is a major contributor to chronic illnesses like heart disease - other factors that lead to heart problems such as high blood pressure and obesity can also become worse if you have an inactive lifestyle.

According to the National Health Portal (NHP) of India, adults are advised at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity in a week, or about 75 minutes of intense physical activity over the same period of time. This translates to about three to five days of aerobic activities, which can be interlaced with a day or two of strength training.

Physical activity varies in nature and its performance. This gives people of all ages, gender and physical ability multiple options to choose from, including aerobic exercises, weight training and many others. Of these fitness regimens, cardiovascular activities are especially popular for their simplicity as well as the fact that usually no equipment is needed to perform them. When there is a need for equipment, it is basic equipment like a step, cycle or Swiss ball.

  1. Benefits of cardio exercises
  2. Types of cardio exercises
  3. Cardio exercises to do at home
  4. Tips for doing cardio exercises
  5. Takeaways

Cardio exercises are meant to increase your heart and breathing rate for 10 minutes or more, and help the body to consume more oxygen as a result. Here are some of the benefits of cardiovascular activities:

  • Maintains weight: Regular cardio activity helps in regulating body weight by burning calories and improving the metabolism.
  • Prevents heart disease: Cardio exercises are named so because of their benefits for the heart - they ensure that the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body efficiently.
  • Maintains muscle and joint health: Regular low- to moderate-intensity activity helps maintain blood circulation to all major muscles in the body. This helps in ensuring muscle growth, and helps preserve the bones and joints of the body by strengthening them.
  • Promotes mental health: Regular exercise helps produce endorphins in the body. This helps battle feelings of negativity and keeps problems like stress at bay.
  • Longer life: Those who exercise regularly have a lower mortality rate than those who lead an inactive life. Regular exercise helps to keep the heart functioning efficiently, strengthens the muscles and bones in the body and helps regulate body weight, which are all essential factors in leading a long, healthy life.

A majority of the people who are into fitness activities view cardio exercises as being monotonous and only to be performed on a treadmill or a stationary bicycle. However, cardio workouts can be extremely engaging when taken out into the open. Here are some of the activities you can indulge in to get your 150 minutes of cardio each week.

  • Walking: The simplest, most natural human movement is considered to be the most accessible form of cardiovascular exercise. When done at a brisk pace and regularly over a long period of time, walking is an excellent way to maintain heart health as well as improve the body’s breathing function. It is also a low-impact exercise that doesn’t cause too many injuries.
  • Running: Although considered to be a high-impact exercise, running is one of the best natural movements one can perform without the use of any external equipment. You can also run on a treadmill when the weather turns bad. It is a full-body exercise that strengthens the muscles and bones and burns calories, besides elevating the heart rate. Some important precautions to keep in mind if you take up running on a regular basis are:
    • Wear shoes that fit you well
    • Invest in a new pair of shoes after running 800-1,000 kilometres in the older pair - change your shoes sooner if there is a lot of wear and tear in them.
    • Running on concrete or on the road can cause stress injuries like shin splints. Also, avoid running on potholed or uneven paths.
  • Climbing stairs: While some may consider climbing stairs to be an extension of walking, it is considered a much more effective way to achieve an elevated heart rate. And it burns calories faster than walking on an even surface. It is considered even more effective than walking uphill or on an incline.
  • Cycling: The purchase of a bicycle and accessories is the only dent this activity is likely to make in your pocket - unless you sign up for competitive and non-competitive events in the future! But cycling is an excellent way to maintain heart health as it is a low-impact exercise as compared to running, which means it helps in preserving the health of your bones and joints.
  • Swimming: Another low-impact fitness activity, swimming has several benefits including the resistance it builds while cutting through the water in the pool. It has tremendous benefits for the overall health of the heart and the lungs, builds and maintains strength in the muscles and bones and is a workout for the whole body.
  • Dance fitness: Various dance forms have been incorporated into fitness routines all over the world for their cardiovascular benefits. Classical or modern dance forms all work on repetitive movements done at various intensities, making them excellent aerobic routines. Dance forms are also exciting and a great way to socialize with like-minded people.
  • Playing sports: As far as organised group activities go, there is nothing better than playing a sport in the park. Team sports like football, cricket, hockey or ultimate frisbee are a great way to maintain cardiovascular health, as most of them involve constant running while executing specific skills. Playing individual sports like tennis and badminton are also excellent cardiovascular activities that help burn a lot of calories in less time.

While most of the above-mentioned cardiovascular activities require space to be performed and are mostly outdoor-oriented, they may not be accessible to all. However, repetitive motions done with the resistance of your own body’s weight can also turn into excellent cardio workouts, and can be performed in the comfort of your own home. Some of them include:

  • Jump rope: Skipping rope, as it is more popularly known here, is an excellent example. There are many variations of this exercise, so everyone from beginners to advanced athletes can benefit from skipping rope.
  • Jumping jacks: A part of most warm-up routines before more strenuous exercises, jumping jacks involve rhythmic jumping and raising the arms overhead.
  • High knees: Running on the spot with the knees going as high as possible, high knees can be quite intense. If you are beginner, start with just 10 seconds of high knees and gradually increase the duration until you can do 30 seconds to 1 minute of high knees.
  • Burpees: A rapid bodyweight exercise combining various movements, burpees are a classic example of compound exercises - meaning, they exercise multiple muscle groups in a short amount of time.
  • Mountain climbers: Assuming a raised plank position and moving alternate feet rapidly is known as mountain climbers.
  • Squat jumps: Performing the usual squats with a twist - by jumping up every time you come up and landing softly in a squat.

Cardio exercises are usually simple movements that have to be performed repetitively for at least 20 minutes and can go up to about 60 minutes, depending on the level of your fitness.

However, it is important to always get into such activities after warming up and stretching the muscles, so that they are ready for more intense activity as well as having a slightly higher heart rate to be able to make the transition up.

Those with underlying conditions or looking to return to physical activity after a long layoff must get a clean bill of health from a doctor before they begin.

Cardio exercises are essential in maintaining a healthy heart rate as well as keeping the lungs breathing in oxygen efficiently. Combined with weight training every other day of the week, this routine works extremely well in keeping an individual fit, healthy and happy.

A lot of the exercises do not even involve the purchase of additional equipment, making them extremely pocket-friendly activities that can be enjoyed outdoors as well as indoors.

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References

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  3. Mandsager K et al. Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Long-term Mortality Among Adults Undergoing Exercise Treadmill Testing. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(6):e183605.
  4. Araujo CG et al. Exercise, Sports & Cardiovascular Health: Relevant Questions and Answers. International Journal of Cardiovascular Sciences. 2019 Aug; 32(4).
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