Cardiovascular fitness is the ability to handle aerobically challenging situations of varying duration. The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. Improving cardiovascular fitness can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by increasing the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. The easier it is to pump blood through your body, the less taxing it is on your heart. Your heart’s contraction strength, the elasticity of your blood vessels, and the efficiency of your blood to carry oxygen all improve if cardiovascular training is effectively executed.
Cardiovascular exercise also aids in maintaining a healthy body composition. Aerobic and anaerobic exercise, especially at higher intensities, contributes to a healthy caloric burn. The fat you store on your body is reserved for periods of prolonged or intense activity. Training the cardiovascular system through high intensity intervals increases the activity of certain hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, that stoke fat burning. Low intensity cardiovascular activities that are sustained for longer durations directly metabolize fats and carbohydrates.
Finally, having greater cardiovascular fitness means you can confidently complete activities that have a cardiovascular demand, such as climbing stairs, hiking, biking, swimming, and even strength training. Being able to move through your day without feeling winded can make a huge difference in your confidence and quality of life.
It is very common to perform cardiovascular exercise as your ONLY form of exercise. For example, a typical marathon runner would have a very high level of cardiovascular fitness, but they may be muscularly weak due to a lack of strength training, and stiff due to repetitively working the same muscles on a single plane of motion.
Remember SPARC’s 4 Pillars of Fitness. In the example above, the marathon runner has developed their cardiovascular fitness, but neglected the other pillars. As a result, they are protected from diseases associated with the cardiovascular system, and can handle aerobically taxing situations, but are still susceptible to the consequences of having poor strength, mobility, and body composition. The lack of strength training, coupled with only moving the joints in one repetitive motion, can exacerbate joint degradation and lead to overuse injuries, poor posture, and immobility. If an individual could run a marathon, but was unable to confidently pick up 100 lbs off the floor, would you consider them physically fit? It is crucial to understand that cardiovascular exercise is only one component of being a healthy, fit, and capable person!
Here are some tips for effectively training your cardiovascular fitness:
Vary your cardiovascular activity. Your body quickly adapts to the type of training you do, which makes it harder to achieve the same results.
Train at the appropriate intensities. A heart rate monitor is one of the best pieces of equipment you can buy for dialing in your cardiovascular training. Try to exercise within 60-80% of your maximum heart rate to achieve the optimal physiological results.
Give yourself the appropriate rest intervals. Try to set your working intervals anywhere from 15-60 seconds, and have a work:rest ratio of 1:3 or 1:4. For example, do a sprint interval on a bike for 15 seconds, and rest for 60 seconds. Total workout duration can be anywhere from 10-30 minutes.
Progress! Whether you add seconds to your work intervals, take away seconds from your rest intervals, or increase the total number of intervals you perform in a given workout, always progress! Your body will adapt to your workouts quickly, so you must remember to strive for more challenging sessions over time.