By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
It can be tough for me to find time to go to the gym and exercise. When I get really busy, trying to stick with a dedicated workout routine or exercise regimen can be very challenging. The great thing about cardio exercises is that they are so flexible. I can head out for a quick jog, plan out a longer run, or even take a brisk walk for a few minutes to escape the workplace.
Cardio is an integral part of an exercise program for a few reasons. It helps strengthen the heart and muscles, burn calories, manage appetite, improve sleep, and mitigate the effects of high blood pressure and arthritis. These are just a few of the many benefits of cardio workouts.
Getting fit through cardio also means your aerobic capacity is enhanced, which means you’ll feel greater amounts of energy and simply won’t tire as much through a typical day.
If you are a beginner to exercising, start slowly. Try just walking for five minutes each day, and gradually increase the pace and distance as you start to feel stronger. If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, hop on a bike or an elliptical machine to get your heart pumping.
During cardio training, it’s important to properly warm-up and cool down your body. Walking or slow jogging for five to ten minutes before a cardio session gets your body ready to exercise and fosters blood flow to muscles.
Once you’re done exercising, take time to cool down by stretching out your calf muscles, quads, hamstrings, and lower back. Proper stretching helps muscles recover after a workout and reduces the risk of cramping or tightening.
One of my favorite things about cardio is that a good workout doesn’t have to cost any money at all. I can really get my heart pumping with a little creativity. Here are some of my favorite cardio exercises.
You might remember jumping jacks from school. They’re a great form of cardio, since they burn more than seven calories per minute, or over 400 calories per hour, without the use of equipment. Jumping jacks can be done just about anywhere with space, which makes them a useful exercise for those on the go who just have a few minutes, or as a supplementary activity for people who do have the time for a full workout.
Jumping rope is a great cardio option. You can burn upwards of 400 calories per hour by jumping rope. Ropes are cheap and are easy to fit into a bag, making the jump rope a great option for business travelers who want a high-intensity cardio workout. In addition, it is easily integrated into a cardio workout or as part of a strength routine to keep the heart pumping.
Burpees are a comprehensive bodyweight exercise that involves squats, jumping, and the plank position. It’s a taxing and intense activity that requires a lot of energy and stamina to do on a repeated basis. Obviously, it’s a great way to burn calories. Burpees are another exercise that are able to be done anywhere. They’re a great option for a workout at home, in a gym with padded floors, or even outdoors in nice weather.
Kickboxing is a rigorous workout that usually includes combinations of punching, kicking, and striking a punching bag. Kickboxing can be a great way for men and women to learn how to punch and kick effectively as a form of self-defense. It’s a great workout for people who might be a bit more social, since many martial arts gyms offer kickboxing classes where participants can meet each other and spar. I find kickboxing a fun cardio workout—it’s a great way to challenge the mind and body while burning calories.
Riding a bike is a popular form of cardio. Some people prefer biking as an alternative to running or jogging, while others just enjoy being able to explore a new area on an outdoor bike. Bikers in the gym should mix fast and slow songs with different resistance levels, while those riding outside should shift gears to mix up the intensity of the ride.
Cardio is more than just training your body. Regular exercise also greatly enhances a person’s sense of self and well-being. Studies suggest that exercise can help tackle depression as effectively as some antidepressants. One study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes per day, or walking for an hour, reduced major depression risk by 26%.
Exercise, especially cardio, also helps the body better manage stress and anxiety. The release of endorphins during cardio helps the body relax and keep the mind away from thinking about situations that cause tension and worry.
You’ll see the best results from cardio if you can find some time to exercise each day. Vary the intensity and duration of your workouts by incorporating some of the different cardio activities listed above. Different exercise routines will help target various parts of the body and reduce the risk of injuries due to overuse.
Once a week, try to engage yourself in a longer cardio activity, like playing a round of golf or attending a local Zumba class. Incorporate cardio and weights in the gym to further strengthen your heart and bones while providing your body with a comprehensive workout.
Consistency is key with cardio. Get your heart pumping and muscles working each day, and you’ll start to see the results you’re looking for.