Cardiovascular exercise -- also called cardio or aerobic exercise -- is physical activity which raises the heart rate to around 60 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate for an extended period of time, usually twenty minutes or longer. A sudden strenuous activity, such as lifting heavy weights, may raise the rate to this range temporarily, but it is not considered cardiovascular exercise unless the elevated heart rate is sustained.
Cardiovascular exercise is called aerobic exercise because aerobic means “with oxygen.” When the muscles are engaged for a long period of time, they demand oxygen from the blood in order to continue working. The heart rate rises and the lungs pump harder and faster to meet the demands for oxygen over an extended period of time. When muscles are engaged very intensely, the heart is not able to supply oxygen fast enough so the activity cannot be sustained. These kinds of activities are known as anaerobic activities.
Types of Cardio Exercise
Any form of exercise can be considered cardio exercise if it raises the heart rate sufficiently and can be sustained for long periods of time. Often normal activities such as walking or climbing stairs can be turned into cardio exercises if they are done intensely. Cardio exercise involves engaging major muscle groups which require a large amount of oxygen, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, chest and arms. Running, swimming and bicycling are typical cardio exercises, though a wide range of activities, such as power yoga, basketball or stair climbing can constitute an aerobic workout.
Aerobic exercise is one of the most beneficial activities you can take part in to promote heart health. The purpose of the heart is to pump blood through the body and supply oxygen to the muscles, brain and other bodily tissues. When the heart is worked at an elevated rate during aerobic exercise, it responds by becoming stronger over time to compensate for the strain. As the heart strengthens, it does not need to work as hard during rest to supply oxygen to the body, and resting heart rates fall. This reduces the chances of heart attack and other conditions associated with heart disease.
Cardiovascular exercise creates a sustained calorie burn. As the muscles work, they burn calories; some of the calories they use come from the food you eat, but if you do sufficient cardio exercise, your body will begin to burn fat for additional energy. This can reduce the buildup of body fat and promote weight loss. Losing weight through cardio exercise is much healthier than losing weight through dieting alone, since rigid low calorie diets can lead to decreased muscle mass and weakness.
Cardio exercise has many other benefits besides promoting weight loss and heart health. Cardio fitness often leads to an increase in libido and overall energy levels. Working out can also reduce stress and increase mental acuity. For many people physical activity increases self esteem and self image.
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