Take my breath away...

No, I'm not singing the lyrics to the 80's 'Berlin' classic of much loved Top Gun fame, I'm talking...

Cardiovascular exercise.

Ok, granted not as sexy as Tom Cruise but it'll get your heart racing in a different way.

Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio as it's more affectionally termed, is any form of exercise which improves your cardiovascular fitness i.e. the amount of oxygen your heart is able to pump around your body to your muscles and the efficiency of your muscles to use the oxygen effectively. When your cardiovascular fitness improves, your heart becomes stronger, pumps more blood more efficiently and therefore supplies oxygen and energy to your body more efficiently.

What kind of activities will help with this?

Any activity that moves larger muscles and raises your heart rate to at least 50% of it's maximum so walking, running, swimming, skating, aerobics class, boot camp, trampolining, netball, bike riding, tobogganing, rowing... you get the idea!

workout with friends

The NHS recommends 'at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic (with oxygen) exercise such as cycling or fast walking every week'; '75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of single tennis every week'; or 'a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minutes runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity'.

What's the difference between moderate and vigorous?

The key difference is how fast your heart is beating. Unless you have a heart rate monitor on your body whilst you're working out though, the best way to judge the intensity you're exercising at is by using an RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) scale of 1-10; 1 being fast asleep and 10 being you're working so hard that your heart might actually explode out of your body if you don't stop breathing or collapse first!

For moderate intensity exercise you want to be working at an RPE of 5-6; you're feeling warm, slightly breathy but you couldn't sing if someone asked you to.

For vigorous intensity exercise, you're looking for an RPE of 7-8 or short bursts of 9; you're breathing is fast and heavy, you're sweating and you can't speak a sentence without having to catch your breath in between words.

What are the benefits?

feel good
The benefits of cardio exercise cannot be understated:

  • lower blood pressure
  • increases good HDL cholesterol which transports fat away from the arteries and back to the liver
  • reduces levels of bad LDL cholesterol which can cause fatty deposits in the arteries and contribute to heart disease
  • stronger heart and lungs
  • reduces risk of heart disease and some cancers
  • reduces likelihood of type II diabetes / better control over existing type II diabetic conditions
  • increases bone density
  • reduces risk of osteoporosis
  • builds stamina and endurance
  • better sleep
  • increases metabolism
  • promotes weight loss
  • boosts immune system
  • temporary relief from symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress
  • improves brain function
  • improves concentration
  • increases self-confidence

With all these benefits, there's no good reason not to include cardio exercise in you life, so...

Where should I start?

If you're a complete beginner and you're looking to get more active, begin with something more moderate. You can start today with no equipment, gym membership or know-how by simply moving more in your average day:

  • Park in a space at the back of the supermarket car park or the furthest car park from the shops
  • Take in some fresh air, leave the desk behind, and go for a 30 minute walk this lunch time
  • Take public transport to work? Get off at an earlier stop and walk the last bit
  • Ditch the lift and take the stairs wherever possible
  • Call your friend up and invite them out for a walk and a chat - what better excuse is there for a catch-up?