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How to Get a Great Cardio Workout

August 20, 2019

"Only one out of every three adults gets the recommended amount of cardio each week."

In today’s live show, Dr. Nancy continues her series on exercise. This time she’s talking about the importance of doing cardio as we get older, including the best types of cardio to keep our bodies healthy and functioning properly, and one popular exercise we should give up for good. Dr. Nancy also explains how often you should be doing cardio, and the best ways to fuel your body before and after your workout. Some of these exercises will be more fun than you might think!

Video Highlights

  • 03:17: How Much Cardio You Need
  • 06:55: Cardio Intensity Levels
  • 12:00: Types of Cardio Exercises
  • 23:00: High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT
  • 24:53: A Few Common Cardio Exercises You Should Not Be Doing
  • 27:05: Drink Water
  • 29:26: What and When to Eat
  • 35:52: Wrap-Up

How Much Cardio You Need

According to the experts, you should be doing 150 minutes of aerobic activity at a moderate intensity level each week, or 75 minutes of aerobic activity at a vigorous intensity level. Check in with yourself — is that you? If it’s not, don’t worry… you’re not alone!

In fact, less than 5% of adults living in the U.S. do 30 minutes of cardio every day. And only one out of every three adults gets the recommended 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio each week!

Sadly, more than 80% of American adults and children do not get enough cardio or do enough strength training to meet the health guidelines for their age. 

This is due, in large part, to too much screen time, whether that be computer screens for adults or video games for kids. TV time is a big issue for people of every age. Now more than ever, people are living more sedentary lifestyles, and that inactivity leads to a host of health issues like:

  • Obesity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Arthritis
  • Bone loss

Really, that list can go on and on. It is so important that we all take the time to get moving for at least 30 minutes every day!

Cardio Intensity Levels

And we really mean you need to get moving. In order to see some health benefits, you need to get your heart rate up. That’s what we’re referring to when we talk about “moderate” and “vigorous” intensity.

Let’s go into that a little bit more for those who don’t work out regularly. Workout intensity is the percentage of your maximum heart rate (MHR), while exercising, and there are three intensity levels:

  • Low – 40-54% MHR
  • Moderate – 55-69% MHR
  • Vigorous – 70% or higher MHR

Still confusing? No worries – we’ve got you covered.

What your maximum heart rate is during exercise depends on your age. To figure out what your specific max heart rate should be, all you have to do is subtract your age from 220. For instance, if you’re 40 years old, your formula would look like this:

220 – 40 = 180

That means you should not exceed 180 beats per minute when you’re exercising if you’re a 40-year-old man or woman. 

But how do we get that max heart rate percentage, you ask? What an excellent question!

That percentage is based on the number of beats per minute your heart is pumping in proportion to that maximum heart rate number you just came up with.

So, if you’re 40 years old, and you’re performing an activity that’s got your heart pumping at about 100 beats per minute, 100 is about 59% of 180, and you are, therefore, according to our chart, working at a moderate intensity level. If you’re performing an activity where your heart is beating 140 beats per minute, 140 is approximately 78% of 180 and you would be working at a vigorous intensity level

Without doing calculations, you can also gauge your workout intensity level by assessing your breathing. At low intensity, you should be able to sing and carry on a conversation. At a vigorous intensity level, you should be breathing too hard to be able to carry on a conversation.

We highly recommend you invest in some sort of heart rate monitor that you can wear when you workout so you can figure out if you’re working out within the right heart rate zone. Going over your maximum heart rate number could be just as detrimental to your health as engaging in no activity. 

There are a lot of great heart rate monitors on the market for every budget!

Types of Cardio Exercises

What comes to mind when you think about cardio? Typically it’s things like running, jogging, and bike riding, right?

It’s true, these are some of the most common forms of cardiovascular exercise that you can do, but some other forms you may not have considered include:

Dancing — yes, dancing! That can include a Zumba class at your local gym, Salsa or Swing lessons at your local dance studio, or putting on your favorite dance track and boogieing to the music in your very own living room! 

Jumping rope. This is a great one that you can do in your very own home, or at the park, or in your driveway, or in your friend’s driveway. Point being, you can jump rope just about anywhere and it will jack your heart rate right up. Channel your inner child and get to jumping!

Next is jumping again…but this time on a trampoline. Think that trampoline in the backyard is only for your kids? Think again! If you’re too embarrassed to bounce in the backyard, invest in a fitness trampoline you can use in your bedroom or in your living room. Jumping on a trampoline for 30 minutes a day a few times a week can improve heart and lung health and can also help improve balance in a low-impact way that’s not too rough on your joints.

Boxing — Rocky Balboa and Billy Blanks were ahead of their time because boxing is one of the latest workout trends with boxing gyms cropping up everywhere. We are totally on board with this trend because not only does it get your heart going, but boxing challenges your coordination and improves agility, in addition to giving you a total body strength workout! And you don’t need to even go to a gym — you can shadow box or cardio box right in comfort of your own home! There are even some super fun online tools and coaches to help you perfect your technique and keep you motivated. 

Hula hooping — This is an excellent form of cardio and one that’s good for core strength, too. Hula hooping has the same benefits in terms of calorie-burn as running on the treadmill. Which one sounds more fun? Because hula hooping strengthens your abs, too, you’ll have better posture and less back pain if you sit at a desk all day. Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?

Kayaking or canoeing — Activities that involve rowing like kayaking, canoeing, or even using the rowing machine at the gym can all work to increase your heart rate. Like hula hooping, this is another activity that works to strengthen your core and back.

Hiking — If possible, why not go on a hike? The unpredictable terrain and potential for hills and valleys will help strengthen muscles while increasing your heart rate. Not only will you be improving your cardiovascular health, but you might see an improvement in your mood, as well.

Organized Sports — Did you play a sport as a kid? If so, you were probably in great shape during sports’ season. Well, why not take that sport back up again? Adult sports leagues are everywhere, and if you can’t find one, start one! Even options like table tennis, likely available at a local rec center, are great for breaking a sweat.

Of course, there’s also using the stair climber (and taking the stairs whenever possible in your daily life), the elliptical, and power walking, but we wanted to give you a few less obvious cardio workout options. We know running on the treadmill or using the elliptical for 30 minutes 5 times a week can seem daunting and tedious so feel free to mix it up!

It’s important to note, however, that when you’re doing things like walking or using the stair climber or elliptical, you want to make sure you’re doing so at an intensity level that’s getting your heart rate up into that moderate or even vigorous intensity zone according to your age.

High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT

HIIT is a series of cardio exercises performed in a short amount of time — anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Here’s a little known fact about cardio: even when you’re done with your cardio workout, your body continues to burn calories for hours after you’re done working out.

HIIT is one of the greatest ways to make that happen. That’s because a HIIT workout routine includes short bursts of vigorous activity interspersed with low to moderate activity. This can include cycling at your maximum effort and then dialing it back to cycling at a nice easy pace. Another example would be power walking for 60 seconds and then slowing down to a nice easy pace for 90 seconds. Or you could perform high-intensity exercises like burpees, jumping jacks, or high knees, and then doing some walking butt-kickers in between. The idea is that you get your heart rate up very quickly and then it stays up even when your workout is complete.

A Few Common Cardio Exercises You Should Not Be Doing

Did you know you use 200 muscles to take one step forward?

Did you also know that the pressure on your feet when you run is 3 to 4 times greater than your entire body weight with each step you take when you run?

That’s why running actually should not be your go-to cardio exercise as you get older. This is going to shock a lot of people, but it’s true.

Activities like running, cycling, and even over-use of the stair climber or the elliptical can put repetitive stress on your joints. The impact of your feet hitting the pavement day after day can cause excessive stress on your ankle and knee joints, which could lead to injuries like stress fractures. If you’re someone who really wants to take up running, ease into it and don’t push yourself too hard at first. Another way to avoid injury is to make it part of a routine that includes exercises to help strengthen the muscles that surround your joints. 

The bottom line is, though, there are a number of alternative activities, including all the ones we mentioned here, that you can integrate into your weekly routine that will give you the same benefits as running without the extra stress and risk of injury.

Drink Water!

We do also need to talk a little bit about the amount of water you should be drinking on the days you do cardio, as well as what you should be eating before and after a cardio workout. 

We’ve mentioned before, as far as water intake goes, you should be drinking half your body weight in ounces a day. On days when you work out, however, the timing of that water intake makes a huge difference.

Dr. Nancy recommends drinking up to 20 ounces of water 2 or 3 hours before your workout and then another 8 ounces right before you workout. This will help prevent dehydration, regulate your body temperature, and keep your joints nice and lubricated. And it also gives you energy!

During your workout, try and drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 or 20 minutes. Then, once you’re workout is complete, make sure you drink at least 8 ounces of water within the first half hour after working out. This is important — hydrate fairly quickly and don’t wait! Also, if you’re someone who sweats a lot, you might want to drink an extra glass or two.

What and When to Eat

The timing of food is something to pay attention to as well. And there are certain foods that are better than others to eat after a workout.

On days you’re doing cardio, opt for something high in carbs and moderate in protein like a smoothie with almond milk, almond butter, berries, and a banana. Throw in some chia seeds and flaxseed meal for extra anti-inflammatory benefits. Try and avoid foods high in fat, even if it’s good fat, and, of course, avoid excess sugar. Food is fuel, not something intended to weigh you down and make you feel sluggish during a workout. A good rule of thumb is to eat about 60 to 90 minutes prior to working out.

After your workout, there’s a period of time known as the “metabolic window.” That includes the first 30 minutes after your workout is complete, and that’s the time when you want to eat a snack that’s a combination of protein and carbs. When you eat this type of snack within that 30-minute window, your muscles can absorb nutrients more efficiently in that time. You’ll also reduce your likelihood of feeling stiff or sore.

Some examples of good post-workout snacks include:

  • A handful of nuts like almonds or pistachios and a generous handful of berries.
  • 1 tablespoon of a nut butter like almond or sunflower and a date or two — don’t go overboard on the dates!
  • If you had something else like eggs before your workout, you could have that smoothie we talked about after your workout, instead.
  • Some lean turkey or chicken with some apple slices
  • Canned tuna fish in water or hummus with some celery and carrots for dipping

Wrap-Up

Here are the highlights of what we talked about today:

  • Not nearly enough Americans are getting the recommended amount of weekly cardiovascular exercise they need to stay healthy — only about one in three people!
  • The recommended weekly amount of cardiovascular exercise that you should be doing is 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. That translates to 5 days a week if you’re aiming for 150 minutes of moderate activity and 3 days a week if you’re engaging in vigorous or high-intensity cardio exercise.
  • To measure the intensity at which you’re working out, subtract your age from the number 220. That gives you your maximum heart rate, which you want to try and stay below whenever you’re working out. Workout intensity is the number of beats per minute you’re generating divided by your maximum heart rate.
  • Moderate intensity is 55-69% of your maximum heart rate and vigorous is 70% or higher than your maximum heart rate.
  • Cycling, swimming, and power walking are great cardiovascular workouts, however, some other fun and interesting ways to get your cardio in include:
    • hiking
    • kayaking
    • dancing
    • jumping on the trampoline
    • boxing
    • hula hooping  
  • Running can be hard on your joints, especially if you’re taking up running for the first time after watching this episode so maybe skip it and opt for one of my other suggestions.
  • Keep in mind, you may need to increase your water intake on days when you work out. Regardless, try and hydrate with about 20 ounces of water a few hours before working out and then drink another 8 ounces right before your workout begins. Try and drink about 8 or so ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during your workout and then sip another 8 ounces within the first 30 minutes of finishing.
  • As far as food is concerned, try and avoid foods high in fat prior to a workout. Go for high in carbs and moderate in protein. The same thing applies when your workout is complete. Within the first 30 minutes of finishing your workout, which is known as the “metabolic window” because your muscles are best able to absorb the most nutrients, fuel up on a snack that’s loaded with protein and carbs like almonds and berries or lean turkey and some apple slices.

We hope you found today’s episode interesting and helpful! If you did, please like it and share it with your friends. Have a great workout!

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