When it comes to cardiovascular training (cardio), most people have a solid idea of what that is going to entail. Running is typically what people think of, but biking and swimming will also often come to mind. Regardless of the mode, it is pretty well understood that cardio training will include some kind of repetitive exercise over a given time with the intent of elevating one’s heart rate. What’s more misunderstood is the dosage, meaning often and how much cardio training people need. When you consider that each type of cardio exercise has different demands, it makes a lot of sense that there’s confusion. For example, swimming for 10 miles is insane (but kudos if you can) while riding a bike for 10 miles is relatively mild.
To simplify cardio training, you should consider how hard you were working and how long you were doing that activity. If your heart rate is elevated for an activity for 45 minutes, you were doing some degree of cardio. You can better measure that activity by how intense it is (more specifics coming on that in a post later this month), but just breaking down the activity by categorizing it as something that is moderate intensity or vigorous intensity should give you a rough idea of how hard you were working.
To answer the question about how much to do, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has you covered. The ACSM is one of the largest and most respected groups for their research on exercise dosage and prescription. Their recommendations for cardio exercise basically state that you should be doing 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise or some mix of the two. The idea here is that 1 minute of vigorous exercise is worth 2 minutes of moderate exercise. So if you did 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, you’d need another 90 minutes in the week of moderate exercise to reach your 150-minute total.
Moderate and vigorous exercise, per the ACSM, is largely defined by a measurement called METs (Metabolic Equivalent of Task), which are well defined but are relatively difficult to explain given the amount of math behind them. METs basically tell you how much energy (or calories) are being used for any given activity. Harvard’s School of Health has a very nice chart that breaks down some common examples. Moderate exercise includes a brisk walk or a light bike ride. Vigorous exercise includes hiking, jogging, or playing a game of soccer or basketball. The difficulty of these exercises will change based on your age and general fitness level though, so you can make the official judgement call yourself on what you feel is moderate or vigorous.
Just to give a little context to these recommendations, the time and intensity per week is based on recommendations to maintain health and prevent cardiovascular disease. For the average healthy adult, these recommendations should be included as part of a regular exercise program for health maintenance. For people who already experience health issues, especially cardiovascular, these numbers are a goal to aim for, but these should be discussed with your primary care doctor or cardiologist. For more athletic populations like a high school athlete, you’d probably hit 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity in one or two practices.
To summarize, your goal is to reach 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Of course, you could always do more if you have the heart for it.
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***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.