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Kick-butt cardio workouts

Debi Pillarella, M.Ed., is an ACE-certified group fitness instructor, personal trainer and advanced fitness and health specialist. She is also the fitness program director of the Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster, Indiana.

Kick up your cardio health

Cardiovascular exercise plays a major role in keeping your heart healthy. An unfit heart is like a car with a bad motor….you never know when it's going to give out on you. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the US for both men and women. It is also a major cause of disability. You can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease through lifestyle changes, like the addition of cardiovascular exercise. Here are the health benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise and three kick-butt cardio workouts you can do at the gym.

Woman doing martial arts

Health benefits of cardiovascular exercise

Regular cardiovascular exercise, also called aerobic exercise, can help reduce or eliminate some of these risk factors:

  • High blood pressure — Regular aerobic activities can lower blood pressure.
  • Obesity and being overweight — Regular physical activity can help people lose excess fat or stay at a reasonable weight.
  • High levels of triglycerides — Physical activity helps reduce triglyceride levels. High triglycerides are linked to developing coronary artery disease in some people.
  • Low levels of HDL — Low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women) have been linked to a higher risk of coronary artery disease. Recent studies show that regular physical activity can significantly increase HDL cholesterol levels and thus reduce heart disease risk.

How much cardio do you need?

Experts use the FITT principal to recommend exercise. FITT stands for frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise.

F= Frequency
According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from the US Department of Health and Human Services, it's best to spread your activity throughout the week, as often as you can, with a minimum of three times per week as a baseline goal.

I = Intensity (moderate to vigorous intensity)
Moderate intensity means you have the ability to talk casually during the activity and are not breathless.

Vigorous intensity means you have the ability to make brief statements, but find your breathing rapid and somewhat breathless.

T = Time
Experts recommend that you spend a minimum of 10 continuous minutes per exercise bout for a total of about 150 minutes per week (for moderate intensity activities) and about 75 minutes per week (for vigorous intensity activities).

T = Type
The many types of cardiovascular exercises use large muscles of the body for a sustained period of time, thereby increasing the heart rate and improving the condition of the heart and lungs.

Moderate cardiovascular activities include:

  • Ballroom and line dancing
  • Biking on level ground or with few hills
  • Canoeing
  • Sports where you catch and throw (baseball, softball, volleyball)
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Walking briskly
  • Water aerobics
  • Cardiovascular exercise machines using a moderate intensity mode

Vigorous activities include:

  • Aerobic Classes (i.e. Zumba, Step, etc)
  • Biking faster than 10 miles per hour
  • Fast dancing
  • Hiking uphill
  • Jumping rope
  • Martial arts (such as karate)
  • Race walking, jogging or running
  • Sports with a lot of running (basketball, hockey, soccer)
  • Swimming fast or swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Cardiovascular exercise machines using a vigorous intensity mode

Ready to get aerobic? Jump to the next page for three kick-butt cardio workouts!

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