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Friday, May 6, 2011

Cardio 101 - The Facts About Cardio

The Facts About Cardio

With a large percentage of Americans overweight, it's clear that many of us are not following the latest exercise guidelines that prescribe an hour of exercise a day. In fact, there was no doubt a collective groan when people realized they would now have to find an hour each day to do something they can't seem to find 5 minutes for. How important are these guidelines and what can you do to make them fit into your life?

The Simple Facts About Cardio

Before we talk about how much cardio you should do, you should at least know why it's so important. Cardiovascular exercise simply means that you're involved in an activity that raises your heart rate to a level where you're working, but can still talk (aka, in your Target Heart Rate Zone). Here's why cardio is so important:
It's one way to burn calories and help you lose weight
It makes your heart strong so that it doesn't have to work as hard to pump blood
It increases your lung capacity
It helps reduce risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes
It makes you feel good
It helps you sleep better
It helps reduce stress
I could go on all day, but you get the point

Bottom line: you need cardio if you want to get your weight under control and get your stress to a tolerable level.

Your first step is to what kind of activities you'd like to do. The trick is to think about what's accessible to you, what fits your personality and what you'd feel comfortable fitting into your life. If you like to go outdoors, running, cycling, hiking or walking are all good choices. If you like the gym, you'll have access to stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, treadmills, rowing machines, stairmasters and more.

For the home exerciser, there are a number of excellent exercise videos to try and you don't need much equipment to get a great home cardio workout.

Just about any activity will work, as long as it involves a movement that gets your heart rate into your Target Heart Rate Zone. Remember:
There is no 'best' cardio exercise. Anything that you enjoy and that gets your heart rate up fits the bill
It's not what you do, but how hard you work. Any exercise can be challenging if you make it that way
Do something you enjoy. If you hate gym workouts, don't force yourself onto a treadmill. If you like socializing, consider sports, group fitness, working out with a friend or a walking club.
Choose something you can see yourself doing at least 3 days a week.
Be flexible and don't be afraid to branch out once you get comfortable with exercise
After you choose what to do, the most important element of your workout will now be how long you do it. You should work on duration before you work on anything else--it's more important to work on continuous exercise than to worry about how fast you're going or how hard you're working. If you're a beginner, start with 10-20 minutes and add more time to each workout until you're up to 30 minutes.

The 'official' guidelines say to workout for 30-60 minutes most days of the week, but don't feel like you have to start at that level if you're not ready. Fee free to:

Split your workouts into smaller workouts throughout the day.
Take a few minutes here and there for some stair-climbing or speed walking.
Do all those things you know you should be doing: take the stairs, walk more, stop driving around looking for that front row parking space, etc.
Make the time. People who workout don't have more time than people who don't. They've just practiced making exercise a priority. Scheduling your workouts and treating them like any other appointment you wouldn't miss may help you stick to your program.
Pay someone to make you exercise. Finding a good personal trainer can make a difference when it comes to motivation and reaching your goals.
Do something...anything. If you think 5 minutes isn't enough time to workout, you couldn't be more wrong. Whether it's 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 60 minutes, every single minute counts.

Keep in mind that doing too much cardio is a no-no as well and can actually backfire. There is a point of diminishing returns, so keep it reasonable (3-6 days a week, depending on your fitness level), vary your intensityf and don't forget to take rest days when needed.

The frequency of your workouts will depend on your fitness level and your schedule. Beginners should start with about 3 non-consecutive days of cardio and work their way up to more frequent sessions. The general guidelines are:
To maintain current fitness level: 2-4 days a week (at least 20 minutes)
To lose weight: 4 or more days a week (at least 30 minutes)
To train for a triathlon: A whole lot.

What happens if you can't follow the guidelines? If you're still working on building the endurance and conditioning, it may take a few weeks to work your way up to more frequent exercises. If it's a busy schedule that stands in your way orother obstacles, do your best to workout as many days as you can try to squeeze something in, even if it's just a 5 or 10-minute brisk walk, on the other days.

Keep in mind that if you can't follow the guidelines because of your busy schedule, you may have trouble reaching your weight loss goals. If you can't do the work required to reach your goals, you may have to change your lifestyle or, if that isn't working, change your goal to fit where you are in your exercise or weight loss experience.

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