Cardio: Which Style Is Right For Me?
Cardio has so many health benefits, not only for your physical health but also for your mental health. It gets your heart rate up, which boosts your mood, stamina and helps to keep your body strong. Whether you enjoy a long walk or are someone who loves to go all out with HIIT, there are lots of cardio exercises to choose from.
Learn more about:
- What is cardio?
- Should you do cardio?
- Cardio styles you can choose from
- How much cardio should I do?
Choosing a style of cardio you love is an easy way to stick to your fitness goals and take care of your health, so it pays to figure out which one is right for you!
What is cardio?
Cardio is any continuous exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate for a prolonged period of time. It typically involves repeatedly moving large muscles in your arms, legs and hips. Think running, brisk walking, cycling, skipping and dancing.
When you do cardio exercises, you breathe faster and more deeply to get more oxygen into your blood. This makes your heart beat faster so it can deliver more blood from your lungs to your muscles.
Lower intensity cardio like walking leads to slight increases in your heart rate, while more vigorous cardio like running results in bigger increases – and can leave you feeling quite out of breath!
Should you do cardio?
Regardless of your age, body shape or athletic ability, regularly getting your heart rate up offers lots and lots of health benefits. And as your body adapts to regular cardio exercise, you’ll get fitter and stronger.
Here are some of the main benefits of cardio.
One of the most immediate benefits of cardio is its mood-boosting properties. Exercise helps to increase your brain’s production of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, which promote an improved sense of wellbeing. The phenomenon is often referred to as ‘runner’s high’ but any form of cardio that gets your heart rate up can promote the same feeling.
Improved mental health
So strong is the effect of cardio on mood that it’s believed exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants at treating mild to moderate depression. Cardio may also reduce the tension associated with anxiety.
Reduced risk of disease
A healthier heart means a healthier body, and regular cardio exercise can reduce your risk of several conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and some types of cancer. Research also shows that people who do regular cardio exercise live longer than those who don’t.
Stronger bones and joints
Regular weight-bearing forms of cardio that you do while standing on your feet, like jogging and skipping, help to maintain or improve bone density and increase the size, strength and capacity of your muscles. This helps to improve strength, coordination and balance, and can also help to prevent osteoporosis.
Improved fitness and energy
All that extra oxygen in your blood when you exercise helps your heart work more efficiently, which means you'll feel fitter and have more energy for daily life. Regular cardio workouts can also help you fall asleep faster, get better sleep and deepen your sleep, giving you even more energy.
Cardio styles you can choose from
Do you like low impact cardio or something a little more intense? Are short intervals or longer sessions more your thing? Whatever you prefer, there’s a cardio style to suit.
Low-intensity (steady state) cardio
It might seem like you’re doing less, but low-intensity – or ‘steady state’ – cardio is really good for building your aerobic capacity and improving your heart health.
Low-intensity cardio is consistent and steady. Usually performed at 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, it’s the perfect warm up or cool down. Low-intensity cardio is an ideal option if you’re new to exercise or getting back into it after an extended break because there’s less risk of injury and it’s kinder on joints and knees. It’s also a great recovery workout on the days between resistance training sessions.
Some of the best cardio workouts don’t hold back, and high-intensity cardio is one of the most popular examples. It’s a fast, explosive and very effective way to work out because it challenges your whole body in a short amount of time. Popular high-intensity moves include skipping, burpees, plyometric squats – where you jump up from a squat position and extend your legs – and high knees, where you bring alternating knees to your chest. A fast run, an intense dance class or a frenetic cycle also fit the bill for high-intensity cardio.
High-intensity interval training – or HIIT – is the posterchild of fast, effective workouts, and it’s easy to see why. A HIIT workout involves alternating short, intense bursts of exercise with rest periods in a workout lasting no more than 25 to 40 minutes, which can improve your aerobic and anaerobic capacity – and save you time. HIIT can be, well, intense if you’re new to exercise, so a beginners’ HIIT workout can be an excellent way to ease yourself in.
Prefer to exercise as soon as you wake up or like working out on an empty stomach? Lower-intensity workouts like cycling, walking or jogging that keep your heart rate at around 50 to 80 percent are ideal for fasted cardio.
If you’re prone to bouts of hanger, fasted cardio may not be ideal as it can mean you have less focus and energy than usual.
Want to try a SUPER short and fast cardio workout? Give Tabata training a try! It consists of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery, typically for eight rounds (four minutes in total).
Tabata was first developed by Izumi Tabata as a method for training Olympic speed skaters and research shows it can be an effective way to improve anaerobic and aerobic systems significantly, whereas moderate intensity exercise only improves your aerobic fitness. Due to its high intensity, it may not be suitable for beginners.
How much cardio should I do?
A well-rounded exercise routine includes cardio, strength training, and balance and flexibility. How much you do of each depends on your fitness goals and lifestyle, but a good guide is to aim for a balance of all three.
When it comes to cardio, try to accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate- intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. You might do more on some days and less on others, 30 minutes every day or change it up each week depending on your schedule – it’s entirely up to you. You can also schedule your week using the planner tool in the Sweat app!
How to discover a style of cardio you love
If you’re new to fitness or confused by all the options, use this guide to work out which cardio style is right for you.
Cardio exercise offers so many benefits for your long and short-term health, and the best bit is there’s a style to suit everyone, which will help to maintain your fitness motivation.
What’s your favourite cardio style? Share it with us in the comments!
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.