is cardio necessary | Line of people on ellipticals

—Emily G., third-year undergraduate, Clemson University, South Carolina

Cardiovascular exercise (also known as aerobic exercise) is any physical activity that increases the heart rate and causes the body to increase its use of oxygen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to intense aerobic physical activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. So yes, I’d say it’s a good idea to make cardio part of your regular movement routine.

There are many benefits to cardio exercise, such as:

  • A stronger heart
  • Improved circulation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • More efficient use of oxygen
  • Improved muscle function
  • Enhanced alertness and brain function
  • Improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety

When most people think of cardio, they think of the treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, or some other form of repetitive exercise. These work, but they aren’t always the most exciting or motivating options. If grinding it out on a treadmill or bike sounds boring, there are other exercise options that achieve the same benefits.

For example—circuit training, which consists of performing more than one exercise sequentially, with very little to no rest between exercises—can help you reach the same effects as prolonged cardiovascular exercise. The key is to keep your heart rate up the whole time you are exercising. Circuit training usually involves the use of resistance in the form of weights, resistance bands, or your body weight. Using resistance also means you’re getting strength training in, which the CDC recommends you do at least two times per week.

Here’s an example of a circuit to get you started:

10 body-weight squats 10 push ups 10 tricep dips10 walking lunges

Try to move from one exercise to the next with as little rest as possible (e.g., 10-second rests). You can repeat the circuit up to three times, with a longer rest period between sets (e.g., one minute). To challenge yourself, add weights, increase the number of repetitions, or decrease the rest time.

Other interesting ways to get cardio include swimming, dancing, jogging outside, and hiking. Try to switch it up so that you’re doing activities that keep you interested, motivated, and feeling good.