Physical activity is defined as any activity that gets you moving and gets your muscles to do some work. Physical activity does not equal exercise, though it does have similar health benefits on a smaller scale. This means that getting up and walking to the printer a few times a day at work is better than not doing that, but it can’t be substituted as your cardio for the day.
Every person should be engaging in some type of cardiovascular activity at least three to four times per week. Some examples of cardiovascular exercises are walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and aerobics. The benefits of cardiovascular exercise include, but are not limited to, improved mood, increased energy, deeper sleep, decreased incidence of chronic diseases and everyone’s favourite benefit, weight control.
Cardiovascular training could also be called “heart and lung training” because on a more scientific level this is what this type of training is having the most direct impact on.
Cardiovascular training improves endurance by strengthening the heart. The heart is a muscle, so it responds to progressive overload. Cardiovascular training also improves lung function and causes improved oxygen flow to muscles.
Here are a few ways you can make the time you have to dedicate to cardio as effective as possible:
Low intensity, long duration
— Cardiovascular exercise doesn’t need to monopolise your whole afternoon to be effective. Engaging in an activity for 20 to 30 minutes at a moderate intensity is more than appropriate. “Moderate intensity” varies person from to person, but can be calculated based on individual heart rate. If you are, at least, working out at 40 per cent of your maximum heart rate, you are being effective. The quick and simple formula for calculating maximum heart rate (for a healthy person) is 220 minus your current age. For example, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate should be 200 beats per minute, or 220 minus 20.
Use the “Talk Test”
— A less formal way of measuring a safely increased heart rate is using the Talk Test. This means that when you are working out you should be pleasantly breathless. For example, if you are with a workout buddy you should be able to talk to them despite being challenged by your workout. If you are breathless, then you are most likely working out at a heart rate level that you cannot sustain for 20 to 30 minutes.
Personalise the activity
— Your cardio training should be person and lifestyle specific. This is the key to success. The most common reason cited for people not sticking to an exercise programme is making it too lofty to achieve. If you have a young child, invest in a jogging stroller. Start by power walking for 20 to 30 minutes. Then progress to power walking with spurts of jogging. This can be advanced to jogging and even to jogging with bursts of sprints.
Kristina Maxwell is a doctor of physiotherapy at Align, a wellness studio with an integrated approach to physical rehabilitative treatments and preventative care.