benefits of cardio on your heart health

"Cardio" for heart health

Cardio-respiratory endurance is at the heart (pun intended) of the most positive and dramatic effects of physical activity and fitness on overall health and wellness. Making your heart stronger allows it to pump more blood (and thus, oxygen) and more efficiently use (burn) fat for energy.  

"Cardio" activities can also help improve blood cholesterol , reduce body fat, and increase energy. The results are improved heart health and an overall sense of wellness and well-being, both physically and mentally. 

And while exercise won't reverse the aging process, many researchers believe that aspects sometimes referred to as a normal part of the aging process are in fact due more to inactivitythan aging.

Cardio and your heart

"Cardio" (building cardio-respiratory endurance) is not only good for you—it makes you feel great, too. Exercise and physical activity help release endorphins, the morphine-like chemicals accountable for "runner's high" and reports of improved self-esteem.  
There are a great variety of cardio-enhancing activities, from moderate to vigorous, all with positive benefits. And they are not all about running and stair-climbers...Anything that gets the heart rate going qualifies, including the following:

Moderate (depending on effort/intensity):

  • Ballroom dancing
  • Playing softball
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Playing on school playground equipment
  • Walking
  • Gardening (mowing, raking)
  • Mopping or scrubbing floor
  • Golf, without a cart
  • Horseback riding
  • Rowing


  • Climbing stairs or hills
  • Sledding, tobogganing
  • Playing with children (vigorously)
  • Scuba diving
  • Shoveling snow
  • Brisk bicycling
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Downhill skiing
  • Hiking
  • Jogging

How much do I need?

You want to get at least 30 minutes of endurance activities at least four days a week. You can even divide the thirty minutes into different "chunks" (no less than 10 minutes) and different activities. So rake the leaves, or jump on the trampoline with the kids.  
Remember to warm up before starting, and stretch muscles once they're warm (e.g., after the activity). The greater the intensity and endurance (time), the better, up to a point. A general rule is that the intensity shouldn't be so high that you can't carry on a conversation while undertaking the activity.
Start slowly, choosing moderate-intensity activities and building up. Make sure the activities are enjoyable for you personally, because if they are, you're more likely to stick with them over time. (Yes, some of us actually do enjoy raking leaves!)

The target heart rate (THR)

The rate at which your heart pumps, your heart rate, is a function of how hard it is working. Activities of higher intensity affect the heart rate, which is a good thing (assuming you're healthy and not overdoing it). The  target heart rate (THR) is a common way for all of us to have an individual target for our fitness level, age and specific activities. 
A particular heart rate is expressed in beats per minute (BPM) and can be measured in one of two ways: either by taking your pulse or using a heart rate monitor. Your heart beats faster when you're active than when you're at rest, so you'll want to determine the BPM during your activities. 
In the middle of a brisk walk after work on a cool day, your BPM might be 135. On a three-mile jog, it might be 155. These are only examples, and not specific to your range or target. Monitoring and developing your THR and activities should only be done after gradually starting activities and working up; depending on your starting level of activity and how active you were before starting, that could be several weeks or several months. 
As always, you should consult with your physician before starting any new program, especially if you are now inactive or have any chronic medical condition. Start slow and go gradually. People who take beta blockers for high blood pressure or a heart condition, as just one example, often have heart rates that are slower because of the medication.

You'll want to measure your heart rate during exercise—several times if possible, depending on the activity and duration. This will allow you to know and adjust how long our heart rate is in the desired zone. The goal is to have a specific time (20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc., depending on personal fitness) for which your heart beats somewhere within this range. The range is simply a percentage of the maximum heart rate for your age. 
To measure your heart rate, take a quick break in the middle of your activity (a run, a walk, raking leaves, whatever). Quickly take two fingers and place across the inside of the wrist or on your neck, just to the left (or right) of the Adam's apple and slightly above it. 
Find the pulse (your blood beating through the vein). Now count the number of beats as you count off 10 seconds. Some people find it easier to look at their watch for 10 actual seconds while counting the beats. Take that number of beats and multiply it by six to get your BPM/heart rate during that stretch of activity. For example, if during your brisk walk you stopped and counted 20 beats in that 10 second interval, then your heart rate was at 120 (20x6).
What is my target heart rate?

Find your target heart rate

The target heart rate (THR) is based on a percentage range of the maximum heart rate (MHR) for a particular age. THRs are also based on averages. Generally speaking, your maximum heart rate is figured at 220 minus your age. Thus, at 35 years of age, your MHR is 185 beats per minute (BPM)—t hat is, 220 minus 35.
The general rule of thumb is that for good health and wellness you need to be working your heart during activities between 50% and 75% of your MHR. The consensus from many health professionals is that the ideal is to spend at least 20 minutes in your "zone" (THR) three or more times a week. 
Early on in your fitness program, you should stay at the lower end—50-60%, for 20-30 minutes. Later, you can gradually work up to the higher end of the range and longer time periods if you desire.
Those who are already fit and active may be able to exercise comfortably at up to 85% of their MHR, according to the American Heart Association. This is great for endurance (and endorphins!). However, you don't have to be at that level at all to get, or stay, in good physical shape. Do not start any exercise program without first consulting with and getting an OK from your doctor.
Age          Target Heart Rate (THR):             75-85%: 
                             50-75%                       (Endurance)
20            100-150 Beats Per Minute       150-170 BPM
30                          95-142 BPM                 143-162 BPM
40                         90-135  BPM                 135-153 BPM
45                          88-131 BPM                 131-148 BPM
50                          85-127 BPM                 127-144 BPM
55                          83-123 PBM                 123-140 BPM
60                          80-120 BPM                 120-136 BPM
65                          78-116 BPM                 116-131 BPM
70                          75-113 BPM                 112-127 BPM

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