The heart is a muscular organ, about the size of your fist. Like all of the other muscles in the body, it requires exercise to stay strong. Made up of smooth muscle fibers, the heart’s rhythmic contractions are a result of regular signals from the brain. How quickly or slowly the heart beats can change, depending on a number of factors including stress, environment and physical activity.
Regular cardio exercise can help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attack and diabetes. In addition to keeping your heart healthy, cardio activity helps you burn calories and excess fat stores throughout your body. It’s also a wonderful way to reduce stress and sleep better at night.
What exactly is cardio exercise? Cardio is an aerobic activity that works out the large muscles of the body over an extended period of time. Aerobic activity refers to the way your body uses oxygen during its metabolic (energy producing) processes. Many activities can be considered cardio exercise, including walking, jogging, biking and swimming.
So, how often and how should you workout? There is no “best” way to exercise, except the way you enjoy the most. If you like being outside, go for hikes, try bike riding, or run outside. If you belong to a gym, there are a number of machines like treadmills, ellipticals or bikes which you can use. There are also DVDs or videos which you can follow along with in the comfort of your own home. Varying the type of exercise you do can help keep you from getting bored.
If you are just starting your exercise routine, start with 30 minutes of activity within your target heart rate 3 to 4 times each week. If in the beginning you are not able to finish 30 minutes, slow down a little until you reach a pace that you are able to maintain. As your body becomes more accustomed to the activity, you can increase the intensity or frequency in which you exercise. Use the perceived exertion scale to gauge how hard you’re working.
If you are trying to lose weight, you may need to increase your activity to more than the above suggestions. Keep in mind however, that you may need to start slow and work your way up. Aim for cardio exercise 4 to 5 times per week. You can also try increasing your activity in other ways as well. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. The more flights, the better. Park in a parking space far away from the door, instead of trying to get the closest possible space. The most important thing is to get off the couch and just do it!