If you have general fitness and wellness goals, you probably need some cardio in your training program. However, what you do for that cardio may vary considerably from what you are imagining. Slogging away on a treadmill or elliptical is definitely not required to improve cardiovascular fitness and all the fabulous benefits that come with it.
Putting it simply, cardio is any exercise that increases your heart rate to the point that your breathing rate increases and you start to feel warm. In order to get the desired benefits, you need to place adequate stress on the cardiovascular system to get the system to adapt and change for the better. Cardiovascular fitness allows you to perform “large muscle, repetitive moderate to high intensity exercise for an extended period of time.” The mountain hike on vacation, hours of quickly walking from ride to ride at an amusement park, raking and bagging leaves all afternoon, dancing the night away and even lifting weights will be much more manageable if you improve your cardiovascular fitness. That’s because cardio improves your body’s function in so many ways. One of the main improvements is a more efficient heart beat so your body is better able to deliver and use oxygen for metabolic purposes. It’s pretty cool how your body adapts to the (good) stress you place on it.
How do you get to the point of making these adaptations happen without wanting to quit (or pass out)? Here are your five tips:
1. Build slowly. It takes time for the body to adapt. You don’t have to go all-in and push yourself to your limits right away to make changes. If anything, doing too much too soon will likely keep you from consistency because humans don’t tend to choose activities that make us miserable over and over again. Stop pushing yourself to the point that you feel like you are gonna puke (or worse, you actually do). This isn’t a military training camp. There’s no zombie apocalypse. Start with 10-minute increments and add time weekly until you get to a total of 30+ minutes 3-5 days per week.
2. Create time targets first then build intensity. Intensity refers to how hard you are working (aka exertion level). What if you are doing a class or other such program that starts off with a longer duration you can’t adjust? This is when intensity can really come into play. Tune into your rate of perceived exertion to adjust how hard you are working throughout your session. Do this by modifying the speed and range of motion of movements. In general for cardio activities, faster and bigger movements increase intensity while slower, smaller movements will decrease it. (This can definitely be the opposite when it comes to intensity of endurance strength exercises ...if you've ever done small pulses at the bottom of your squat, you know what I mean! But that's another post.)
You may have read about heart rate zones and training zones. However, since so many factors can influence heart rate itself, it’s important to tune into how hard you FEEL you are working. How's your breathing? Can you talk easily? A commonly used scale is The Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Check out more info here: http://dhhs.ne.gov/ConcussionManage/Documents/BorgScaleExertion.pdf
To simplify the RPE, many trainers like myself like to use a scale from 1 to 10.
1 Low. Sitting at a desk working.
2-3 Light effort – Strolling through a store, light housework. Can carry on conversation easily.
4-6 Moderate effort. Heart rate and breathing have noticeably increased. You can still talk but it’s a bit more difficult. Could sustain for a while.
7-8 Vigorous. Further increase in heart rate and breathing. Talking is noticeably more challenging. Could not sustain for as long. It’s feeling a bit uncomfortable.
9 Very hard/Near maximal. Difficult to sustain. Breathing is hard and speaking is difficult.
10 Max effort. Nearly impossible to maintain.
Current recommendations are 150 minutes per week moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity. For moderate intensity, you’d want to work at a RPE of 5-6 and for vigorous intensity, work at a 7-8.
3. Do what you love (or hate the least) most of the time. If you find the treadmill to be soul-sucking…find another way to get your cardio session done! You have so many options. Outdoor walking, hiking, biking. Swimming. Dancing. Jump rope. Kickboxing. Circuit training. Reuna Fitness Low Impact 25 Minute Cardio Session. Try 'em all!
4. Celebrate the little wins. When done right, exercise is gonna be challenging, especially at first. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and success when you get started and when you are done. It is HARD to develop an exercise habit. Every time you show up is a reason to give yourself a mental high five or a literal gold star on your calendar.
5. Connect your cardio sessions to something powerful and positive. A tough hike with friends, being able to keep up with the kids or grandkids, being able to take care of your yard, having the endurance to make it through a trip to a big amusement park, finishing a race or hitting a milestone. These things and more make the effort (and discomfort) worthwhile!
If you still aren't sure where to start or you are looking for recommendations, contact me. I'd be happy to send you some helpful information if you give me a little insight into what you need.
Happy Heart Month from Reuna Fitness!
Coming Soon to Reuna Fitness
Move More in March Challenge: details will be posted on Facebook soon.
The Reuna Fitness Walking Program will begin in April. Message me to get on the list to receive updates on the virtual/in-person walking program coming this spring.
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