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What Counts as Cardio and Why is it So Important for Your Heart Health?

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Does walking count as cardio? What about yoga—the kind that leaves you out of breath and shaky? Is swimming cardio, even if you’re underwater?

Twenty-one percent of Americans now wear a fitness tracker to monitor everything from their steps to time spent paddle boarding, to cross-training to playing badminton. Fitness fads always seem to come and go (with CrossFit and pickleball among the latest trends), yet doctors and health experts always suggest cardio as a central component of one’s fitness routine to support heart health. So, what is cardio, and why does it matter so much for your heart? Read on for the answers.

What is Cardio?

What we call “cardio” is cardiovascular fitness, also known as aerobic exercise. If what comes to mind when you hear “aerobic exercise” is an image of men and women in the 80s wearing neon spandex and getting fit together in group classes, know that the scientific term applies to a much broader category of fitness.

Simply put, aerobic exercise, or cardio, is anything that elevates your heart rate. More specifically, it is any rhythmic activity that increases your heart rate into your target heart rate zone—the pace at which you burn the most calories and fat.

Why is Cardio Good for Your Heart?

By raising your heart rate and increasing the flow of oxygen throughout your system, cardiovascular fitness offers such health benefits as:

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Decreasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Encouraging healthier nutrition choices
  • Decreasing stress
  • Improving your mood
  • Improving your workout efficiency
  • Improving blood flow
  • Reducing the risk of heart arrhythmia—an irregular beating of the heart

Examples of Cardio Exercise

Since cardio is anything that raises your heart rate, it’s easy to understand why so many types of fitness activities can be considered cardio, such as walking, running, biking, and swimming. If you’re someone who closely monitors their fitness tracker, you may wonder what your smart tech is counting as fitness minutes on days when you don’t clock time on your Peloton. Since some household chores can raise your heart rate, make you sweat, and leave you exhausted—they can count as cardio too. Such activities may include dusting, vacuuming, mopping, landscaping, or painting.

How Much Cardio Does the Average Person Need?

With so many activities qualifying as cardio, you should be able to find a sport, hobby, or fitness routine that you enjoy to achieve the ideal amount of cardio that you need weekly for optimal heart health. Talk to your doctor to find out how many exercise minutes are right for you before starting any new fitness routine.

On average, adults should strive for at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise each week. That’s the equivalent of about 20 minutes a day each day of the week, 30 minutes five times a week, or 50 minutes three times a week. If time is your enemy, you can strive for a 20-minute dog walk or jog each day to meet your goal. If you’re someone who feels more engaged while participating in a class or group event, you could hit the gym for an hour three times a week. What matters is finding the activities that interest you and a schedule that fits your lifestyle and that you can commit to as part of your daily routine.

A Note About Weight Loss

If your goal is to lose weight, on average, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week to see substantial changes. Again, talk to your doctor before beginning any fitness or diet plan.

American Heart Month isn’t over yet—and it’s never too late to recommit to optimal heart health. If you have concerns about your heart’s health or your risk of heart disease, find a BestMed location near you or schedule an appointment with one of our providers. Telemedicine appointments are also available.