A lot of people are confused about what “cardio” really means, so here’s a definition: Cardio is an activity that increases your exercising heart rate for a targeted length of time. Your heart pumps faster, but not all heart-pumping activities are cardio because they are not sustained over a period of time. Fitness walking, running, biking, swimming, certain types of yoga and Pilates, aerobics, dance programs, and using cardio machines for a targeted length of time are a few examples of cardiovascular exercise. Spreading mulch in the garden, taking a leisurely stroll, and playing softball or baseball are probably not cardio. Why?
Cardio is intense, sustained exercise that typically involves the larger muscles of the lower body. During this intense, sustained exercise, oxygen is continuously being delivered to those muscles. It’s this continuous delivery of extra oxygen that qualifies an activity as aerobic, or cardiovascular. That’s why running the bases a couple times during a game doesn’t qualify. It has intensity but no duration. And, while it may take you a whole afternoon to spread mulch on your garden beds, that doesn’t qualify either. It has duration but no intensity. Cardio involves both duration and intensity.
How much cardio you should do depends on your fitness level, your goals, and your schedule. If you’re just beginning, start with three non-consecutive days of 20 minutes. If you want to maintain your current fitness level, up that to four days a week. If you want to lose weight, try going four or more days a week and increase the time to 30 minutes. That’s what we recommend for our clients who are doing a regular program of supportive nutrition and strength training.
Our number one tip for using cardio machines relates to posture. Remember the definition of cardio? “Cardio is intense, sustained exercise that primarily involves the larger muscles of the lower body.” So, DON’T LEAN ON THE STATIONARY BARS! When you do, you’re holding your weight up with your upper body and the larger muscles of the lower body aren’t working as hard. In fact, there is a study that suggests that leaning on the bars reduces your calorie burn by as much as 30%. Instead, maintain good posture with your shoulders back, your head up looking forward, and keep your core tight. When walking, running or stepping, maintain a good stride by going through your normal range of motion.
Calculate Your MHR
Maximum results are achieved when you can keep your heart rate up in its 65-85% maximum heart rate (MHR) zone for over 20 minutes. Calculate your zone by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying by 65% and 85%. Change up your cardio, too, by alternating between machines. Or try interval training, alternating 30-second high intensity intervals with 2- to 3-minute recovery times.