Whether it's pounding the pavement, logging miles on the bike,
or climbing those stairs that seem to go nowhere, it's all about cardio exercise. But other than a sweaty t-shirt, what
do you have to show for your workout? A slimmer stomach? Killer quads? Are you
exercising for the right amount of time to reap the full health benefits of
cardiovascular fitness, or often enough?
Exercise experts, including fitness maven Denise Austin, answer
cardio questions for WebMD, so you can make the most of your muscle burn.
Do you insist on rising at five to run each morning, even when your back is
aching, black ice coats the streets, and your wife beseeches you to stay in
bed? Do you only feel good when you’re training for triathlons? Is eating
merely a way to replenish for the next race? Then you, my Spandex-clad friend,
may have an exercise addiction.
"Cardiovascular exercise is any type of exercise that increases
the work of the heart and lungs," says Tommy Boone, PhD, a founding member of
the American Society of Exercise Physiologists. "Walking, jogging, and running are common forms of
cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise."
From running and walking, to swimming, elliptical
cross-training, biking, Stairmaster, and rowing -- to name a few -- the
physical benefits of cardio exercise abound, explains says Len Kravitz, PhD,
senior exercise physiologist for IDEA Health and Fitness Association. They
"The American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC recommend,
for health, that adults should accumulate 30 minutes of moderate-intensity
physical activity on most days of the week," says Kravitz, who is also a
coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico. "And to
improve cardiovascular endurance, they recommend 20 to 60 minutes on three to
five days per week."
Now that you know the benefits of cardio exercise, where should
your heart-pumping fitness plan begin?
Getting Into the Zone
To help you make the most of your cardio exercise workout --
help your heart, increase muscle, and lose fat -- Denise Austin, fitness
expert, author of seven books, including Shrink Your Female Fat Zones,
and star of 50 fitness videos, gives WebMD some tips.
"To reap all the benefits of a cardio workout, you should
sustain your workout for 20 minutes or more -- I do 30 minutes myself -- on a
schedule of about three to four times per week," says Austin.
Not only that, but you need to get in the zone, which
calculates into burning calories and fat.
"The best way to find out if you are burning fat is to take
your pulse halfway into your cardio workout for six seconds, then add a zero to
that number," Austin tells WebMD.
This number is your heart rate per minute.
Next, calculate your zone.
"Take the number 220, then minus your age, then calculate 70%
of that number for your target beats per minute," says Austin, and that's your
zone. "If your heart rate halfway through your workout is over that 70% mark
take it down a level, and if under, pick up the pace."
Not a math wiz? There are easier ways to figure it out.
"Another great way to find out your zone is to get a pulse
monitor, which takes the math out of it," says Austin. "Or very simply, take
the talk test: while you are doing aerobics, talk a sentence. If you are too
winded to finish the sentence, you are overdoing it, or if it's too easy to
say, kick it up a notch!"