Cardiovascular fitness is an incredibly important measurement of your overall health.
It is a powerful indicator of how long you might live, what diseases you may develop, and how high your quality of life will be.
Let’s take a look at what cardiovascular fitness really means, why it matters, and a few exercises you can use to improve yours today!
What is Cardiovascular Fitness?
Simply put, cardiovascular fitness is a type of physical fitness that measures how well your heart and lungs receive oxygen, and how effectively they deliver that oxygen to your muscles and organs during physical activity.
Broadly speaking, the better your cardiovascular fitness, the stronger your heart is. In contrast, poor cardiovascular fitness correlates with an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and other heart diseases.
Some general ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness include performing aerobic exercises, not smoking, lowering blood pressure, and reducing bad cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week to maintain good cardiovascular fitness.
However, if you’re concerned with your cardiovascular health, you can schedule a test with your physician and see where you need to improve.
So why might you want to improve it?
Benefits of Cardiovascular Fitness
Improving your cardiovascular fitness comes with a myriad of health benefits. Broadly speaking, regular cardio exercise can greatly increase your quality of life.
Let’s dive into a few of these benefits.
Reduced risk of heart diseases
One study found that individuals who performed exercises targeting their cardiovascular system 3-5 times per week saw their blood pressure reduced by 3-4 mm Hg.
Although that may seem like a small number, it’s far from insignificant. In fact, studies have shown that reducing blood pressure by even 1 mm Hg correlates with significantly reduced instances of heart failure.
Additionally, these small improvements can add up quickly over time which can lead to big results.
Better sleep quality
Having good cardiovascular fitness improves your sleep.
There’s no end to the benefits associated with getting 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Yet, the CDC reports that 1 in 3 adults still don’t get adequate sleep. Fortunately, there’s a very effective remedy to this.
Some research has shown that performing cardio exercise for 30 minutes per day can increase your sleep quality. While more research is needed to confirm if cardio specifically helps individuals who have insomnia, increased cardiovascular activity has been correlated with a decrease in sleep complaints in many studies.
Strong cardiovascular fitness correlates with a longer life expectancy, with some studies showing that 150 minutes of weekly cardio increased lifespan by about 7 years.
Moreover, a retrospective study found that cardiovascular exercise was associated with a longer lifespan with “no upper limit of benefit.” In fact, the study found a clear pattern: the better the cardiovascular fitness, the longer their life.
As Wael Jaber, MD, a senior author of the study put it, “We found in our study there is no limit to how much exercise is too much.”
Countless studies have demonstrated the positive effects cardiovascular training has on cholesterol levels.
Simply put, high HDL (“good” cholesterol) and low LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels are associated with lowered risk of dementia, heart attack, stroke, and other diseases.
The List Goes On…
It’s important to note that the list of benefits associated with consistent cardiovascular fitness can’t be summarized in this one article.
For example, some additional benefits include:
- Improves cognitive function
- Promotes healthy skin
- Increases lung capacity
- Reduces risk of erectile dysfunction
- Improves your mood
- Decreases anxiety levels
- Helps with weight loss
- Lowers risk of diabetes
Why is Cardiovascular Fitness So Important?
Cardiovascular fitness is important because it is the best way to make your heart “stronger”.
Remember, your heart is a muscle. When you perform cardio activities, you’re “working out” that muscle. Your heart beats faster and pumps more blood. So over time, your heart gets stronger and more efficient.
In fact, regular exercise even increases the sheer number of capillaries (small blood vessels) in your body. Having more efficient blood flow systems is a huge way to improve your cardiovascular health.
So what are some exercises you can do to improve your cardiovascular fitness?
Cardiovascular Fitness Exercises
While there is a wide range of cardio exercises that will provide the above benefits, here are four to get you started.
Brisk walking is an easy, but extremely effective cardiovascular fitness exercise.
In fact, walking 3 miles per hour for half an hour per day can provide you with a multitude of benefits. In addition to improving your overall cardiovascular fitness, some benefits of brisk walking include weight control, increasing your energy levels, and reducing stress.
That said, you won’t shed hundreds of pounds just by walking for 30 minutes per day, but it’s absolutely better than doing nothing and is a great start on your cardiovascular journey.
To start, make sure you have a good pair of shoes and some water (especially if it’s hot out). If you haven’t moved much in a while, aim for about 1,000 steps per day, then work your way up to 3,000 (~30 minutes). If you feel empowered, keep going after 30 minutes.
You may want to consider using the Health app on your phone or getting a FitBit to track your daily steps.
Moreover, listening to things like music, audiobooks, or a podcast can make your walk even more entertaining. You can also use your walks as a chance to catch up with friends or family on the phone.
Do whatever it takes to get you on your feet!
Swimming is one of the best exercises to build cardiovascular health.
On average, someone who weighs 150 pounds will burn about 400 calories an hour during a moderate swim. Moreover, swimming is a great exercise for building your overall physique. Swimming challenges your core, lower back, deltoids, arms, and chest.
Furthermore, swimming is a fairly low-impact activity. Although running may burn more calories per hour, swimming is much less stressful on your bones and ligaments. In fact, doctors often recommend swimming for individuals who are injured or have joint-related conditions such as arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
One important tip with swimming is to start slow. If you never learned to swim or haven’t done so in a while, you’ll want to get a swimming instructor to show you how to stay safe. You may also want to consider getting a floating device as you get started.
Cycling is another highly effective, low-impact exercise you can do to improve your cardiovascular health.
Although you may remember bicycling as a little kid, millions of American adults cycle regularly for cardio. In fact, 2020 saw a major increase in cyclers largely due to the pandemic and the rise of digital options such as Peloton.
On average, moderate cycling will burn between 400-600 calories per hour. What’s more, cycling has several benefits beyond just cardiovascular fitness. For example, cycling reduces your carbon footprint, builds muscle, and can even help with back pain.
If you’re thinking about getting into cycling, make sure you ease into it. Spend a few rides getting comfortable with your bike, and make sure to wear protective equipment such as a helmet and pads.
Dancing might be the most fun way to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Depending on the genre, dancing can be a great way to increase muscle strength while getting an effective aerobic workout. Searching for “dance workout” videos yields over 40,000,000 results, which means no matter your taste in music, there’s a dance workout for you.
Additionally, one of the best parts about dance exercise is it requires no equipment and you can do it anywhere!
While dancing genres can vary widely, you’re still burning calories and keeping your heart pumping. For example, 60 minutes of ballroom dancing will burn nearly 300 calories, and swing dancing will burn nearly 500.
In addition to the obvious cardiovascular benefits, dancing can also have a positive impact on your mental health. Dancing in a group setting can help foster a sense of community and help you feel more connected with people, which in turn can improve your overall quality of life.
Just get started!
Whatever option you choose to start with, the best thing you can do is to start it.
Doing simple things like walking, swimming, dancing, or going for a bike ride are small things you can do now that will drastically improve your cardiovascular health in the long run.
Remember, aim for 150 minutes of cardio exercise every week to get the most benefits. If you’re just starting out and 30 minutes per day seems daunting, you can try breaking up your workouts into 10-15 minutes twice a day, then build up to 30.
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Of course, you’ll want to talk with your physician before starting any new exercise regimen, and as always, if you have questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help!