Did you know that heart disease is one of the number one causes of death in the United States? What a lot of people probably don’t realize is that studies have shown one of the most effective methods to prevent heart disease is through exercise prescription. Exercise is also involved in the prevention and treatment of other health problems. Cardiovascular exercise reduces blood pressure and decreases your chance of developing diabetes and Alzheimer’s — to name a few.
It’s no secret that many of us struggle with sticking to an exercise routine and making smart food choices. But our bodies are supposed to move! That’s why people say, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” By maintaining a healthy weight, we also make things a lot easier on our joints, because excess weight causes joint pain and can lead to osteoarthritis. So what type of cardiovascular exercise should you be doing?? The good news: physical activity does not have to mean that you spend hours of your day on the treadmill.
Our bodies possess two different types of energy systems that operate when we preform our cardio routines, the aerobic and anaerobic system.
Aerobic activity is typically thought of as just running or biking, but it’s what happens inside the body that defines the term. Aerobic literally means requiring oxygen — more specifically our muscles require oxygen. Think about a marathon runner. She runs for a long period of time, at a steady pace, breathing consistently. Her heart rate rises as she begins running, and her lungs have to work harder to keep up. During her steady running pace her heart is circulating fresh oxygen to all of the muscles assisting her run.
So what is the other energy system we use and how is it different?
Run like you stole something. Or perform a burst or high interval workout. This is a great example of anaerobic exercise because you most likely cannot run at your max speed for a long period of time. Unlike your aerobic system, which can provide you energy longer, your anaerobic system provides energy very quickly, but only for a short while. During anaerobic exercises your muscles do not require oxygen, but eventually they will. Our tissue would die without oxygen. We would die without oxygen!
We are never 100% aerobic or anaerobic because the anaerobic system only provides energy for about 60 seconds to 2 minutes before the aerobic system kicks into gear. Sprinters and marathon runners utilize each of these systems. It has to do with their pace. Both are runners, but a sprinter’s race is over well before a marathoner reaches a quarter mile. Anaerobic exercise increases your anaerobic threshold, which means you can work more intensely as you condition yourself. A win!
Moderate steady state cardio, also known as LISS or MISS, can be done over a longer period of time. This aerobic activity is beneficial for anyone, because you can build a fitness foundation and maintain it. You could go on a bike ride, swim laps in a pool, go running, or push a stroller. During this type of activity you should still be able to carry on conversation.
This aerobic activity may seem simple, but there is some science behind it. Ideally, when you execute your moderate steady state routine, you should be exercising within 50-60% of your max heart rate. Your maximum heart rate is the upper range of limit your body can withstand. To calculate your max heart rate, simply subtract 220 minus your age. If you are 24 years old, subtract 220-24 and multiply that times 50% and 60%. The max heart rate of a 24 year old is 196 beats per minute (bpm). An ideal steady state cardio range for this individual would be about 98-118 bpm. You can use any heart rate monitor device or check pulse manually. Or just make sure you can still speak sentences while walking/jogging.
It may seem daunting to walk and/or jog for 20-30 minutes, but your muscles are happy because your heart is circulating fresh oxygen to them while they work. Consistently building upon your aerobic fitness increases the threshold of what your body can tolerate. No matter who you are, or what your personal workout preference is, everyone needs a solid foundation. If your heart is not conditioned to efficiently circulate oxygen, your anaerobic exercises will feel much more difficult.
A lot of workouts will incorporate moderately intense exercises into interval circuits. Tabata rounds and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are popular workouts that challenge both the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Interval training is a great to increase your fitness threshold while keeping your workout considerably shorter. Another win!
Full body circuit training can also be done with lightweights or body weight. Try preforming a circuit of multiple exercises. It might look like this: 20 seconds of squats, 10 seconds rest, then straight into pushups for 20 seconds. Rest again. You can incorporate 4-6 exercises and add weight if able. This is a great way to work up a sweat and get cardio benefits!
You might be asking which cardio format is best for weight loss? The answer is both: moderate steady state cardio and more intense training like Tabata or HIIT. You can’t train your abs in one format and expect them to change. Same goes for your heart — training it in a few different ways is best!
Try these options to mix up your usual cardio routine.
No matter what your cup of tea is, running or interval training, physical activity is beneficial to your health in so many ways. Our body is our most permanent home.