Put Cardio Exercises in Your Fitness Plan

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You need cardio exercises in your fitness program. Why? Because cardio exercises strengthen your heart and lungs. Cardio: short for cardiopulmonary -- as in heart and lungs, as in vital organs, as in no good health and fitness without strong ones. Weight loss, stress reduction, and more energy are also benefits of cardio workouts.

What are Cardio Exercises?

Cardio exercises elevate your heart rate and keep it elevated for a continuous period of time.

Aerobic exercise is another name for cardio. How high your heart rate needs to be in order to make an exercise cardio depends on your level of fitness. There are target heart rate calculators that will help you figure out what your maximum heart rate is and what percent of that you want your heart beats per minute to be for cardio benefit. As for how long to exercise for, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests 20 minutes of vigorous cardio 3 days a week, or 30 minutes of moderate cardio 5 days a week. For more details, read What Makes a Workout Cardio?

Choosing Cardio Exercises

To get benefit from cardio exercise, you need to be consistent about it. Therefore, it is important that you choose a type of cardio exercise that you like, that is convenient enough that you will do it regularly, and is safe for your body. A poll of people who do Pilates as the moderate strength training part of their fitness program revealed that their top cardio choices were:

  • Walking - Walking is a wonderful choice because it is usually very safe for the body. The only drawback to choosing walking as a cardio exercise is that you have to stay focused to keep your heart rate up. Most people don't walk fast enough. Get Started Walking
  • Running - Unlike walking, with running you probably won't have trouble keeping your heart rate high enough. However, a drawback to running is that it is high-impact exercise, making it harder on the joints. For those interested in weight loss, running is one of the best calorie-burning exercises. Get Started Running
  • Bicycling - You can't just toodle around on your bike and call it cardio, but it's not hard to turn bike riding into cardio exercise. And bicycling is also low-impact, which is good. Bicycling for cardio does require a good bike, and willingness to go some distance, but what a nice way to enjoy your cardio. 

Other popular cardio exercises are swimming, elliptical training, and step aerobics. For a list of cardio ideas with their pros and cons, read: Top Cardio Exercises. If you look at these lists and groan with the idea that cardio is boring, know that you can mix up your cardio workouts. That might affect your technique or progress in a certain form, but as long as your heart rate is in your target zone, and you get the time in, it counts. You can also go for less conventional cardio exercise, like dancing. So have fun.

Cardio and Weight Loss

Cardio exercise burns a lot of calories, so adding cardio to your workout routine will help you lose weight -- more or less depending on the intensity of the activity you choose. If you don't want to lose weight, you might have to eat more calories than you are used to in order to maintain your weight. If weight loss is a goal, you will find a sample strength training and cardio program for weight loss in my article, Fat Burning Workouts and Pilates.

Best Fitness Plan: Strength Training with Cardio

Keep in mind that while cardio exercise is good for you, to be truly fit you need to do both cardio and strength training. The health benefits of strength training include stronger bones and muscles, better posture, and better balance. And, of course, appearance is a valid motivating factor for many. For that, the core strength and muscle tone that comes with strength training is a must.

Weight training is obviously strength training, but Pilates is also in the strength training category. Considered moderate strength training, Pilates has many benefits and is entirely adequate for a healthy strength training and cardio fitness plan.

Get in Shape with Pilates
Get in Shape with Weight Training
Pilates and Cross Training
Pilates and Interval Training
Make a Fitness Plan

Now it's time for you to plan your week so that you can get both cardio and strength training in. And, it always helps to keep an exercise log.