This week we discuss cardiovascular exercise, part of the 4 components of our well rounded exercise program. As we noted previously, as per the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate intensity aerobic exercise every week. (5) Cardio can improve both the function and the performance of your heart, lungs and circulatory system. Many different cardio exercises exist and you can choose what works best for you by determining what will fit your intensity and goal level.


According to the American College of Sports Medicine, cardiovascular exercise is any activity that increases heart rate and respiration while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically.(1) Cardio falls under high, low and no impact and here we will look at the differences.


High Impact: Both feet off of the ground at some point during the exercise. Examples include running, jogging and jump rope. High impact exercise might be good for those that have a baseline of fitness, no recent injuries and no bone or joint problems.


Low Impact: Any aerobic activity during which one foot is kept on the ground at all times. Walking and hiking are considered low impact. Low impact exercise is good for beginners, older adults and those with joint or bone problems. Low impact tends to be less jarring on the body and reduces the risk of injury. Remember, low impact doesn’t necessarily mean low intensity.


No impact cardio: Typically considered any water activity such as swimming and water aerobics because being immersed in water reduces the pull of gravity on your body. Cycling is another example as the bike supports most of your weight. No impact cardio is a good option for those that are recovering from an injury or have bone and joint problems.


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), is another way to get your cardiovascular training. HIIT is a technique that alternates brief speed and recovery intervals to increase the overall intensity of your workout. Most cardio workouts are done at an exertion level of 5, but HIIT workouts are meant to be performed at an exertion higher than that, usually 7 or higher. They can be as short as 8 seconds or as much as 5 minutes. The higher the intensity, the shorter the speed interval and recovery is equal to or longer than the speed intervals. HIIT workouts can significantly increase aerobic and anaerobic fitness. (2)


A few things that cross over from our blogpost about resistance training include F.I.T.T principles and progression.


F.I.T.T includes frequency, intensity, time and type. When applied to cardiovascular exercise, our training program might look like this:


Frequency: 3-5 days a week

Intensity: 50-85% of heart rate maximum (220 – age x .50 to .85)

Time: 20-60 or more minutes per session, continuous or intermittent activity

Type: Aerobic (run, elliptical, brisk walk, bike ride, swim, dance, jump rope)


The recommended rate of progression in an exercise conditioning program depends on the functional capacity, medical health status, age, individual activity preferences and goals, and an individual’s tolerance to the current level of training.


No matter what type of cardio you choose, it’s not so much about time as it is what’s right for your body and your goals. It’s also important to enjoy they type of cardio you do! When starting or maintaining a cardio it is important to remember the following:


  • Don’t overdo it, increase gradually as your fitness level increases.
  • Warm up before getting into the most challenging part of your workout. This lets you increase body temperature and heart rate and allows your muscles to get comfortable with the work it’s doing.
  • Cool down before stopping. Performing 5-10 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity activity after moderate-to-vigorous exercise keeps blood from pooling, flushes metabolic waste from the muscles, and gradually returns circulation to pre-exercise levels.


Do you have questions about how to get started with a cardio program? Looking for new exercises to incorporate in your current program? Contact us for more information.




  1. “Definition of Cardio Exercise”. Accessed 13, July 2015.
  2. “High Intensity Interval Training”. Accessed 13, July 2015. The American Council on Exercise.
  3. “Cardiovascular Exercise”. Accessed 15, July 2015. The American Council on Exercise.
  4. “ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise”. Accessed 20, July 2015.
  5. “2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary”. Accessed 1, July 2015. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  6. Image courtesy of Toa55 at




President, Personal Training Manager at Body By Brent LLC