Cardio 101: The Basics of Cardiovascular Exercise

How Long Do I Need to Stay in the Zone?

Now that you know how to get to that target zone and monitor it, how long should you stay in it? To fully benefit from your cardio workout, the American Heart Association's (AHA) recommendations for physical activity are as follows:
  • For moderate-intensity aerobic activity, try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise in your target heart rate training zone for at least five days a week. This amounts to approximately 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
  • For vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, try to do at least 25 minutes of exercise in your target heart rate training zone for at least three days a week. This amounts to approximately 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
However, these are fairly general recommendations. It's important to talk to your healthcare provider before you begin your cardio regimen, as he or she can help discuss what would be most appropriate and beneficial for your specific situation. For example, if you are taking certain high blood pressure medications, it can affect how you should calculate your target heart rate zone.
Your healthcare provider can also help you determine what exercises may be most beneficial and safe for your particular situation. If you have certain heart conditions, you may need to be monitored during physical activity. Your healthcare provider can also help you choose the best activities that are appropriate for your current fitness level and health goals.

Pay Attention to Your Body

While all these recommendations and guidelines are great, it's important not to overlook an important part of exercising -- paying attention to your body. Although the math may come out to a certain target heart rate number, it may be inaccurate for some people. In addition to using a percentage of your maximum heart rate during your cardio workout, you need to use common sense and pay attention to how your body is responding.
When exercising at an appropriate intensity, it should feel challenging, but it should also feel like you can keep going. If you are working out at an easy intensity, where there doesn't seem to be much of a challenge, you may still receive some of the health benefits, but you are not going to achieve the maximum calorie-burning effects and the aerobic benefits that you would if you were in your target training heart rate zone.
On the other hand, if you are exercising too hard and pushing yourself beyond your current fitness limits, you won't be able to keep up that level of exercise very long. You will become tired quite quickly, and it may increase your risk for injuries.
As you become accustomed to working out on a regular basis, you will begin to learn more about your body's response to exercise. This familiarity will also include starting to realize how you breathe and talk when you are in your target zone. To ensure you are at a safe and comfortable level of exercise, you should be able to breathe fairly comfortably and rhythmically during your workout. You should also be able to finish a short sentence without any problem.
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