Cardio is short for cardiovascular, which is a reference to the heart (see Circulatory System). Cardiovascular exercise is exercise that raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated for a period of time. Another name for cardio or cardiovascular exercise is aerobic exercise. As a side note, aerobic exercise and fitness is the opposite of anaerobic exercise, of which strength training and short-distance (sprint) running are the most prominent examples. For example, running a long distance at a moderate pace is a cardiovascular workout.

Heart Rate

To maximize your cardiovascular workout you need to find out what your maximum heart rate is (i.e. beats per minute). That being said, you don’t want to workout at your maximum heart rate. The reason to find out your maximum heart rate is so you could target a specific heart rate zone for a particular workout session. The American Heart Association suggests that healthy people can workout at 50% to 75% of the maximum heart rate. In the beginning you should calculate more toward 50% if you are just getting in shape. However, if you are fit  and more toward 75% if you are in great shape.

Women should subtract their age from 226. Men should subtract their age from 220. For instance, here is a example of a calculation of the maximum heart rate of a 37-year-old woman. 226 – 37 = 189 beats per minute (maximum heart rate).

Known benefits of regular cardiovascular workouts (aerobic exercise):
  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration (i.e facilitating the flow of air in and out of the lungs). The lungs become more efficient at delivering oxygen.
  • The heart muscle strengths and develops more muscular walls which means to improve it´s pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate, this is also known as aerobic conditioning. The heart is able to squeeze a greater volume of blood out per contraction.
  • Strengthens the muscles and joints throughout the body.
  • Reduces blood pressure and improves circulation efficiency.
  • The blood volume increases and enables a greater uptake and delivery of oxygen to the body.
  • Increased calorie expenditure and higher metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories) while building leaner muscles.
  • Increased numbers of capillaries within muscles which will improve circulation.
  • Increased elasticity of the arteries which will improve circulation.
  • Recovery after exercise is enhanced.
  • It also results in improved mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression.
  • Reduces the risk for diabetes.
  • Blood cholesterol levels decrease.