Cardiovascular Exercise


Cardiovascular exercise provides a number of health benefits to us. From psychological benefits to cognitive improvements and reductions in risk for serious diseases, you can’t be at your healthiest if your heart and lungs don’t get regular work.

Good for the Mind

Aerobic exercise has been shown to be effective in improving depression in the short term[1] and improved aerobic fitness has been shown to lead to lasting improvements in mood[2]; it can even increase the size of regions of the brain![3]

Good for the Heart

Improvements in aerobic fitness reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease[4] and bring down the resting heart rate whilst increasing maximal cardiac output and stroke volume[5]. To put it simply, the stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart can pump with each beat whereas cardiac output is the total volume of blood your heart can pump each minute – which is your stroke volume multiplied by the number of beats per minute.

Good for Immunity

During moderate and hard exercise, several positive changes occur in the immune system. It has been found that regular exercisers suffer with cold symptoms for half as many days and take take fewer sick days than those who are inactive[6].

Different Forms of Cardio

There are several different forms of cardiovascular exercise, these can range from low-intensity gentle walking to intense intervals that leave you gasping for air.

Steady State

Steady state cardio, also known as LISS (Low Intensity Steady State), is the simplest way to exercise and is an excellent starting point for those who don’t regularly exercise. Steady state and LISS aren’t necessary the same thing, steady state can be performed for shorter periods of time at a moderate intensity.

Steady state exercise involves performing an exercise at a sustainable intensity for a moderate-long period of time usually between thirty and sixty minutes. It is an effective method and it is a safe method for most, it is also rather time consuming and it can become boring after a time if you’re not able to keep yourself amused.

A good way to get cardio into your routine if you are busy, is to use a stationary bike for your cardio whilst catching up on emails or doing other general tasks that you can do from a phone or tablet. This only works well for low-intensity cardio however as you will not be able to work and work out simultaneously past a certain level of effort.

Interval Training

Interval training, also known as HIIT (High intensity interval training), is a method that is significantly more intense and a lot less time consuming than steady state exercise.

Interval training involves a short period of work followed by a period of rest, an example of this is the popular Tabata routine of twenty seconds work followed by ten seconds rest. Interval training sessions are generally shorter than steady state sessions as the intensity is not sustainable for a long time.

So far HIIT has gained popularity with many now claiming that HIIT is the holy grail of fat loss and steady state is a muscle-eating waste of time. Studies have generally supported HIIT’s use for improving aerobic performance, cardiovascular health and metabolic capacity[7]. Some research finds HIIT to be considered more enjoyable[7] which makes it likely that it is a form of cardio that people will be able to stick to.

Interval training is a good option if you are strapped for time and want to fast-forward your cardio. This isn’t an easy option however and isn’t suitable for everyone.


#1 Put the Work In


The fat burning effect from cardiovascular activity is a combination of three factors:


Intensity – How hard you work

Duration – How long you work for

Frequency – How often you work


To obtain the best results you must complete the most total work. This is a very debated subject however it is generally accepted that total work is the biggest factor. Intensity should not be excessive as this will necessitate a decrease in both duration and frequency so the overall effect is lessened.


#2 Do Cardio at Least Three Times Per Week


The easiest way to increase calorie expenditure through exercise is simply to perform cardio more often. If you do cardio 3 times each week, you could increase this to six and straight away you have doubled your exercise energy expenditure.


#3 Do Cardio For at Least Thirty Minutes


Despite what a lot of internet articles say, you can’t achieve a great body in just 10 minutes each week. You need to train for 30-60 minutes 3 times each week to make an appreciable difference with cardio.


#4 Start Slow


This applies for all three factors but mostly for intensity. Start small with 30 minutes of low intensity exercise 3 times each week, as you become comfortable with this, you can increase the intensity up to moderate and increase the number of sessions until you experience the results you’re looking for.


#5 Pick the Right Exercises


If you are overweight or have past injuries, some forms of cardio may not be suitable for you. Running is an excellent exercise but can put too much stress on the knees, ankles and feet. Try some of these low impact alternatives:


  • Rowing Machine
  • Exercise Bike
  • Swimming
  • Step aerobics
  • Circuit Training
  • Barbell Complexes


The results you achieve are dependent on the work you put in, for this reason it is vital that you pick exercises that you can do and enjoy – or at least don’t hate. If you do this and adhere to you cardio plan you’ll achieve great results, if you don’t you won’t.


#6 Make It Routine


Being creatures of habit it is very useful for us to build good habits. Our habits define who we are, whether we are fat, slim, skinny or muscular it is all a result of habit. To gain the benefits of exercise and to burn fat it must be an ongoing effort, it must be habit.


Many people prefer to do their cardio in the morning, this will wake you up and get your mind and body stimulated and ready for the day’s work however any time will do. Just make sure you do it. Do it again and again and again until you find yourself automatically putting on your running shoes or getting in your car to go to the gym. This is a perfect example of using conditioning to change your life for the better.


#7 Don’t get bored


There are many forms of cardio and many exercises that can be used in a cardiovascular exercise program. It’s a great idea to exercise with others and set yourself challenges to keep yourself stimulated.


Cardio Challenges

Cardiovascular training isn’t always everyone’s favourite but there’s no reason that it can’t be fun. Try the following cardio challenges to add a bit of fun to your cardio workouts.

2.4km Run

This challenge is taken from fitness selection in the British Army[8]. It simply involves covering 2.4km (1.5 miles) in the shortest time possible. If you’re new to exercise, you might just walk the distance and record the time but as you progress, you can compare yourself to the standards set by the British Army.

Juniors 14.30
Royal Artillery 13.15
Infantry 12.45
Paras (TA) 10.40
Paras (junior) 10.00
Paras 09.40

Erg 2k Row

The 2k is a famous test on the rower amongst rowers and fitness enthusiasts all over the world. The task is simple, you have to row for the equivalent of two kilometres on a rowing machine and your time is your score, a lower score is a better score.

With this challenge you should compete with yourself first before you compete with others as proper form is important and it takes time to improve your time. Some of the times achieved are nothing short of incredible.

A Mile Swim

Most of us can swim, but how many can swim a mile? A mile (or 1.6 kilometres) is the equivalent of thirty-two lengths of a fifty metre pool or sixty-four lengths of a twenty-five metre pool.

Expect to take four to eight weeks to swim your first mile if you’re new to swim and in good health. It does vary however, it takes as long as it takes. Swimming is an excellent choice of exercise for those looking for a low-impact cardiovascular challenge.


Choose one of the cardio challenges and find out how good your cardiovascular fitness is, then improve it.