The Beginner's Guide to Cardio

The Beginner's Guide to Cardio

The Basics

If you’re new to cardio (or exercise in general), you’re probably thinking aerobics classes of the 80’s - all Jane Fonda and leotards. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Cardio exercise is anything that increases your heart rate and improves your body’s oxygen intake, all while using large muscle groups in a repetitive fashion.

Research suggests that to help maintain good health, you should perform around 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity most, if not every day. 

What Does It Do for You?

While that heart of yours is pumping and more oxygen is flowing through your body, you are using multiple muscle groups and building greater strength and resilience. As your body works harder and harder, your entire system starts to rise to the challenge, and your essential muscles and systems (for example heart, lungs and circulatory system) start to improve in function.

Don’t forget your heart is a muscle, and it needs a regular workout to maintain its strength and do its job effectively.

Cardio Versus Aerobic Exercise

Is there a difference? In essence, not really. Both are focused on increasing heartrate and oxygen intake, and both result in greater endurance and overall fitness. Basically, they each achieve the exact same thing.

That’s the general answer. The more extended answer is that there is a slight difference in each technical definition: The word ‘cardio’ stems from the Latin ‘cor’ and ‘kadia’ – relating specifically to the heart. So cardio exercise centers on raising your heart rate. Aerobics, on the other hand, takes its name from the Greek ‘aeros’, meaning ‘air’, and ‘bios’, meaning ‘life’. So, the focus there is on oxygen intake.

All that said though, when you increase your heart rate, you automatically increase your oxygen intake, and vice versa. So, same-same.

High-Impact Cardio

Within cardio or aerobic activity, there are spin-off differences though. High-impact cardio is the hardcore stuff. High-impact is defined as a workout where both feet are off the ground on the regular. In this kind of workout you are likely burning calories at a faster rate, and your heart rate will increase in pace significantly.

This is weight-bearing activity and includes the likes of running or jogging, aerobics classes, jumping-rope and certain types of strength training.

Low-Impact Cardio

Conversely, low-impact cardio is any cardio training where one foot is always on the ground. This doesn’t mean you get off lightly though; low impact can still mean high intensity. Low-impact cardio is still defined as a weight-bearing activity and helps in maintaining healthy and strong bones, as well as improving respiratory flow.

Things like walking or hiking fall into the low-impact category, as does swimming. Swimming is a wonderful form of cardio exercise for those who still want to get their heart racing but have issues with joints or are not as mobile. Being in the water means the weight of gravity is lifted. So swimming is actually defined as no-impact training – great news.

Getting Involved

If you’re looking to introduce cardio workouts into your life or want to mix up your existing routine, there are plenty of activities to choose from. We’ve mentioned things like running, hiking, swimming and walking; there’s a whole wide world out there though.

Lots of team and individual sports give you a great cardio workout: think soccer, basketball, tennis or racquetball. You can join in on Zumba or other dance classes to get your heart rate going and join a community of like-minded people at the same time.

Cycling is another great cardio activity and you’ve got lots of options: get on the stationary bike at your local gym solo or for a spin class, set yourself up with one in you own home or get out on an actual bicycle and breath in some fresh air at the same time.

What are you waiting for?