Hate running? Do not fret. You can get all the cardiovascular exercise you need, with all the heart-pumping benefits, and never have to run another day in your life.
Kenneth Baldwin, a personal trainer and fitness consulting business owner in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said cardiovascular fitness is mostly prominent in populations ages 35 years and younger, and more specifically women 35 years of age and younger.
According to Baldwin, who is also an associate professor and program coordinator of SUNY Plattsburgh’s online master’s in fitness and wellness leadership, common activities for this population include group exercise classes in a fitness center like yoga, zumba, spin classes, and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) classes.
Cardiovascular exercise is popular because it is easy and accessible compared to strength training, he said.
Baldwin said about strength training that, “It is very complicated movements to learn, it’s easier to kind of get on a bicycle, run, or go for a walk because you’re replicating one movement.”
Jasmine Hall El is a professional within the fitness industry and the owner of Strong, Pure & Simple, a personal training and health and wellness shop based in North Carolina.
Hall El believes cardiovascular exercise is so popular because it is intuitive. She said it is something everyone can do and there is no equipment necessary. Walking, swimming or biking does not require a lot of expertise to start, and for someone who is beginning exercise for the first time, it is an easy place to start.
Due to the obesity epidemic in the United States, it is common for individuals to search online for easy ways to lose fat. Most of the exercises that come up if you do that search are cardiovascular exercises, she said.
“Cardiovascular exercise honestly is just a very blanket term, and there are so many things that can be cardiovascular because basically, in a nutshell, it’s really any type of type of exercise that you have to use oxygen,” Hall El said.
The Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise and Why it is So Important
Some of the short-term benefits of cardiovascular exercise may include easier management of weight, a stronger heart, easier regulation of blood sugar levels and easier management of oxygen levels, Hall El said.
Hall El also said there are some serious long-term benefits of cardiovascular exercise too. For example, one could have an overall better quality of life through a stronger heart, muscles and bones. According to Hall El, cardio may also help individuals to metabolize foods better, manage chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and lower one’s chance of chronic disease. Through cardio, one can increase longevity, she said.
Hall El also brought up financial stability. She said that, because some individuals are able to get off their medications, there are more than just health benefits to cardio fitness, but it takes effort.
“Medication isn’t free either,” she said. “All these medications cost money and people always complain about how much money they have to spend on it, but I mean, what is free is going outside and taking a walk.”
Hall El said the most principal reason why cardio is so crucial to add into our daily lives is because it works the heart.
“People forget that the heart is a muscle,” she said. “They remember that biceps are muscles or their triceps are muscles, but they forget about those internal muscles, like your heart and it needs to be exercised.”
When the heart is properly exercised it works more efficiently to pump blood throughout the body, manage blood pressure and utilize oxygen in the most productive manner.
Baldwin also spoke to the positive impact of exercise, saying he wishes he had done more cardio at a young age because of the health-related benefits. For all populations who perform cardiovascular exercise, there will be long-term benefits on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. For example, doing this exercise could lead to a decrease in prevalence of Osteoporosis in women, he said.
You May Want to Stay Away from Running Anyway
If you do not like running, you may be in luck. No matter your age, running will break down your body over time. According to Baldwin, only 5 to 8 percent of the population has the ideal lower body to be running on a regular basis.
“There is a higher chance of getting injuries if you run, even a few miles a week, compared to walking,” Baldwin said.
“It’s either going to be your hips, knees, ankles, feet or back,” he said, “and, so I never really promoted running to my clients, unless they were college or professional athletes.”
Hall El also said that she does not like to prescribe running as an exercise to do unless the client truly loves to run. She has had exercise-induced asthma since she was twelve years old, and has always preferred not to run, but still enjoys exercising.
Baldwin said, “If you want to do something that’s going to last the rest of your life, that you can still do extremely fast to get the cardiovascular workout that you want, it would be walking.”
He said walking is a bodyweight exercise that provides impact on the lower body to help prevent bone-related diseases, without the long-term injuries that could be caused by running. Anyone can walk at any age, but there is a proper posture and body alignment that needs to be maintained, or there will be compression on the spine that will take a toll over time. This also applies to other cardiovascular exercises like riding a stationary bike or using the elliptical trainer.
If you are having trouble with keeping proper posture and body alignment, have a friend take a video of you while you are performing the cardiovascular exercise, Baldwin suggested. That way, the visual representation can help to remind oneself throughout their workout to keep their spine in proper alignment. He said it is extremely important to take the time to train the back and neck muscles to be in good alignment.
According to Baldwin, a few tips for adding cardio into your workout routine are to not go over 30 minutes of continuous cardiovascular exercise per day and to take the Talk Test. The Talk Test is a way to measure how intense one’s workout is. Talk to a friend while performing the exercise and if the individual is working hard enough, they should be able to talk, but with some difficulty. They probably will not want to talk, he said, and that is what you want.
Balwin said another tip for beginner exercisers is to start slow and increase the duration of cardio fitness slowly. He said starting off with eight to 10 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, and adding approximately two to three minutes a week is best. Taking it slowly will allow the body to adapt with as minimal of stress as possible, but still efficiently.
Older populations that may be on multiple medications for diseases like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, may need to check in with their primary care provider after four to eight weeks of cardio exercise, Baldwin said. There is a good chance that their dosages may need to be adjusted or they may be able to stop taking their medications altogether, he said. This is another benefit of cardiovascular fitness.
Different Cardiovascular Exercises Besides Running and Age Does Not Always Matter
Baldwin suggested exercises such as walking on the treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike, taking spin classes, riding an outdoor bike, walking on the elliptical, swimming or different types of aerobic training in the water.
Hall El said that some other cardiovascular exercises to do may include jump roping, walking, zumba classes and swimming. Even weight lifting, like bicep curls, can get your heart into the cardio zone, she said. For those who are morbidly obese, she said, swimming can be tremendously empowering because they can do a lot more in the water than when gravity is fighting against them.
“Honestly, I don’t prescribe exercises based on age,” she said. “I prescribe it based on fitness level.”
She said she has had clients as young as 11 years old who can barely take a walk around the neighborhood because they are so out of shape and deconditioned. As well, she has had clients who are 45 years old, but are extremely motivated and athletic to the point where they could do circles around the 11-year-old. There is an idea in our society where if you are younger you can do more and if you are older you can do less, she said, but that is not always the case.
For those who she considers to be the novice level of exercise or who have previous injuries, she said she usually prescribes low impact exercises like walking, rowing and kettlebell swings. She said these are things that do not require the individual to do anything advanced or plyometric, and gradually increase their heart rate.
Hall El said for those who are at an intermediate level, she would additionally mix in some plyometrics into the prescription like jumping jacks, butt kicks and high knees. At this stage she still likes to focus on bodyweight exercises, she said.
Finally, Hall El said if one of her clients is at an advanced level, she feels comfortable incorporating much more intense exercises like box jumps, and integrating strength training with cardiovascular exercise. An example, she said, could include an exercise like squat thrusts.
How the Trainers Bring More Enjoyment to their Workouts
“Before the virus, I really loved surfing, so during the summer times when we would go to Hawaii, I would train for about eight weeks in the water before going,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin loves doing endurance, plyometric and HIIT training in the water. He said this low-impact training also brings out his youthful side. As well, he said he likes to stretch while he’s doing his cardiovascular exercises and that makes the time go by quicker for him, along with preparing him for what he is about to do next in his workout regimen.
Just thinking about the benefits of cardio fitness adds enjoyment to Baldwin’s workouts.
“I think the foundations of keeping your heart healthy and your pulmonary system healthy is very important and even if you have asthma, which I do, you can still work on it on a daily basis,” Baldwin said.
He said increased blood flow through the body due to cardiovascular exercise helps all of the bodily systems. As well, the endorphins and decreased stress caused by cardio makes the individual feel better overall in general. He said studies conducted on collegiate athletes since the pandemic have stated 60-70% of them were depressed. Mental health is also something that may be positively impacted by cardiovascular exercise, he said.
To make exercise more enjoyable, Hall El, bases what exercises she is going to do for the day based on her motivation level.
“Even as a fitness professional, you can get inundated, which is life,” she said. “If my motivation is low, I do not do hard things.”
For example, she said she’ll go for a walk instead of her normal regimen. As well, she said, some individuals feel ashamed that they are walking instead of running or jogging, but doing something is better than nothing at all.
Additionally, to make exercise as pleasurable as it can be, Hall El suggests her clients make a playlist for when they workout. She said incorporating music that is high energy, motivating and inspiring, has helped her, along with her clients, to keep pushing through. Also, she said she likes to bring a competitive nature into her workouts with her family through Fitbit challenges. She feels the competitive atmosphere is another way for her to stay motivated and enjoy exercising.
Hall El said some of her clients have made cardio more fun by bringing their pets along for their walks. As well, she suggested joining group fitness classes because they can be exciting, and if one goes with friends, they can be held accountable for making it to class every week.
Overall, Hall El said the best way to incorporate cardiovascular fitness into one’s life more is to find a mode that you fall in love with and truly want to do.
“Find something that takes the, ugh, out of exercise,” she said.
There are so many ways to learn to enjoy aerobic, cardiovascular exercise, that do not have to include running at all. Find the exercises that make you want to get out of bed in the morning and become inspired to better your health.