Improving your cardio with sport

“Our exercises for improving your cardio”, “ 30 minutes of cardio”, “I need to work on my cardio today” etc.
What are we talking about? Why is cardio important? And how does sport affect it?

Improving your cardio with sport

Are you also being asked to work on your cardio? To better understand, we explain how it works and what role sport plays on cardio.

“Cardio”: What's that? 

The term "cardio" is short for the word "cardio-vascular" and more specifically, the "cardiovascular system". It includes the heart as well as the entire network of arteries and veins that circulate blood throughout the body.
Like any system, it needs an engine, a pump to operate: here, that's our heart (which is, of course, a muscle).
By contracting regularly, the heart pumps blood more or less quickly in order to circulate it through this closed system. This autonomous "pumping" rhythm is better known as heart rate, expressed in beats per minute.

This circulation of blood to all of our organs is essential, since it is how oxygen is carried - which is vital for us all!

Improving your cardio with sport

When working on cardio, what should you be doing?

The expression “work on your cardio” is, again, shorthand for:
"I'm doing a physical activity at a known, defined intensity that works on my heart and my entire cardiovascular system to improve them." Much quicker just to talk about cardio, right?!

For the cardiovascular system, improvement means: to be able to carry greater quantities of oxygen more quickly throughout the body as soon as an organ needs it (muscle, brain, stomach, etc.).

Also know that the heart is a muscle, and like all muscles in the body, training it means improving it!

 why is it so important to "work on cardio" regularly?

It's the cardiovascular system that carries oxygen to all the organs as soon as they need it. This need is permanent: whether you are sleeping, partying, doing your errands, or working out, your organs need oxygen to function.

The amount of oxygen required will vary based on the intensity you are using your muscles. When you run, for example, you use your leg muscles more intensely than usual, which requires a greater oxygen supply. And it's your cardiovascular system that carries that quantity of additional oxygen to adapt to this new need.

But, and it's a big BUT, what is extraordinary about the human body is that "forcing" the cardiovascular system to carry more oxygen to the muscles during a run will also allow the cardiovascular system to be better and more effective.

In other words, the more you work your cardio, the more you improve your cardio vascular abilities!
And the progress you make during exercise will not only increase your endurance during workouts, but will also help you to be in better health for longer in your daily life!

Improving your cardio with sport

what to do to improve your cardio with sport

You must already have some idea of what I'm going to tell you: improving your cardio happens through physical activity. Which one? I'll help :).

Improving your cardio with sport

Continuous workouts:

The goal is to use your cardiovascular system through physical effort. To do so, it is preferable to choose continuous efforts, during which your workout won't be interrupted. You should maintain your running speed, pedalling pace, or walking speed without stopping for a defined period of time (7 minutes minimum).

Do "long” workouts:

There is no "ideal" length of time. This is good news, since as soon as you make an effort, you're using your cardiovascular system more than average, so BINGO - you're improving it!

If you're just starting out and want to set a goal for yourself, aiming for a 20-minute workout is already really good!
You can gradually increase the length of your workout over 6 to 8 weeks to reach 1 hour. That would be the best of the best!

Of course, when you're short on time, 30-minute workouts are more often easier to wedge into your schedule. It's also a good compromise between cardiovascular work and daily free time!

Improving your cardio with sport
Improving your cardio with sport

Work out at the right intensity: not too gently, not too hard

The ideal intensity is neither too low nor too high (a very short, but very intense effort is too difficult to maintain over longer periods of time). 
The intensity to target is therefore “moderate”.

To give you a sense of how that feels: at that intensity of running or walking, you aren't able to easily maintain a conversation and you feel your breath speed up in a regular way, but you are able to provide short answers to questions.
In terms of heart rate, if you are used to using a heart rate monitor, aim for an intensity of around 70% of your max heart rate (MHR), with a range between 65 and 80% of MHR. Around 130 beats per minute.

The secret of a good cardio workout: regularity

Finally, the last tip but not the least: regularity!
It's better to do two 20-minute cardio workouts every week than just one single 1-hour session every other weeks. But if it's 1 hour twice a week, every week, that's the holy grail ;).

The gains you'll make for your cardiovascular system will be faster. After 2 sessions of physical activity for 20/30 minutes per week for a month, you should already feel significant effects during your workout as well as during your daily life.

And if you stop your regular workouts, those feelings will decrease just as quickly. So regularity AND longevity are the keys to life-long health benefits.

Improving your cardio with sport

And what exercises are made for improving cardio?

The answer is pretty easy: everything that allows you to follow the guidelines above! The most common and easiest to implement when starting out are:

- speed walking or Nordic walking,
- running at a jog,
- cycling,
- swimming,
- aquafitness,
- "cardio" sessions at the gym: cardio training, cardio boxing, cycling, step etc.

Now it's your turn, and I'll just say: "Have a good cardio workout”!

Improving your cardio with sport

Hélène Petot

Tip editor

A handball player, research engineer and exercise physiology specialist, I'm happy to share my knowledge about the human body during exercise so "workouts" won't hold any more secrets!

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