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Beginner Exerciser Series:Starting a Cardiovascular Program

Jun 28, 2021

Thanks for joining me for the 3rd installment of our Beginner Series! If you missed the last two, they focused on Goal Setting and Finding the Right Trainer, and can be found on our Events page on Facebook.

If you’re here, you’re likely in one of two groups: you’re a Beginner Exerciser, or you’re the family, friend, or otherwise in the support network of a Beginner Exerciser. Either way, or if there’s another reason you’re interested, we’re really glad you’re here!

Today we’re going to talk about cardiovascular training. With few exceptions, most exercise prescriptions will include a cardio component. Don’t get scared away - this doesn’t mean everyone needs to start running or do a bunch of burpees every day. This just means you need to move your body and make your heart work hard, making it stronger.

First off, why should we talk about cardiovascular training? What’s the purpose? Why do I have to do that in addition to strength training? Well, while strength training has countless benefits (increased muscle mass, hormone balancing, stress reduction, maintained bone density, the list goes on) it’s also important to work our heart. A lack of cardiovascular exercise and a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, dementia, and many types of cancers. An active lifestyle can also lead to better sleep, fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and a better quality of life and overall sense of well-being. Moving your body and working your heart should be a crucial and regular part of your lifestyle.

Should you become a client at Fitness Together, we always start off by writing an exercise prescription for you. This will of course include our plan for your sessions with us, whether that's 2 or 3 times a week. But just working out 2-3 times a week likely will not get you to your goals, or at least not as quickly as you would like. It’s important to do something active close to every day, and that’s why we send you home with a home program (usually strength based) as well as cardiovascular and flexibility/mobility suggestions. We’ll cover flexibility next week when we talk about stretching and foam rolling, and today we’ll focus on cardiovascular exercise.

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise. That recommendation is the same for everyone, although everyone’s definition of moderate and vigorous is clearly different.

For most, moderate activity includes exercises such as brisk walking, water aerobics, or easy biking. Vigorous would be a strenuous hike, running, swimming, fast cycling, or exercises like jumping rope. For best results, it’s suggested to get a mix of moderate and vigorous activity.

However, we are not all at the same level of fitness, especially when we start out. For some, a brisk walk is a warm-up to another exercise, for some it’s out of reach today. That’s why it’s also important to know your target heart rate zones.

On average, your maximum heart rate, which means the absolute highest your heart should ever go during the hardest exercise, is found by subtracting your age from 220. I’m 32 years old, so for me that’s 188. For a 60-year-old, that’s 160 bpm (beats per minute). During moderate exercise, your heart rate should reach 50-70% of your maximum. For me, that's 94-132 bpm. For that 60-year-old, that’s 80-112 bpm. During vigorous exercise, your heart rate should be closer to 70-85% of your maximum. For me, that’s 132 – 160. For the 60-year-old, that’s 112-136. Keep in mind, these are averages, so don’t get too wrapped up in the number, just try to stay close to that range.

You can take your heart rate with any of the high tech watches most of us wear, but if you don’t have one, look at a watch with a seconds hand or use a timer. Count for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to get your heart rate. To find your pulse, use your carotid (the one on your neck) or radial (on your wrist) pulse. Use your index and middle fingers, not your thumb, because it has its own pulse. Press down and don’t start the timer until you’ve found your pulse.

So now that we know how long and how hard we should be exercising, let’s move onto what types of exercises we can do. I gave you a few examples earlier (walking, dancing, tennis or other sports, swimming, cycling, running, HIIT workouts like jump rope) but anything that gets your heart rate up works. The important thing is that it has to be something you enjoy. There’s a myth out there that if you want to start exercising, you have to run. It’s true that running is a very time efficient way to burn calories, but so are many other forms of exercise. If you’re someone who loves running and your trainer says you need to run 150 minutes per week to hit your goals, great. But for those of you that don’t love running, those 150 minutes are going to take a lot of motivation and drive. If you love cycling, or HIIT workouts, or hiking, you’re far more likely to stick to a program if you’re given the freedom to do what you like. So don’t feel that you have to do one exercise over another. Pick something that you enjoy, have access to, and will stick to. If you enjoy hiking and walking, pick a trail or path close to your house or work that you know you can get too quickly. If you enjoy swimming, find a pool and membership convenient for you. For things you have to travel to (swimming (unless you have your own pool), mountain biking, HIIT classes, etc) keep in mind the principles we talked about last time when discussing finding a gym and trainer. It has to be convenient for you! Find a place close to where you usually are, such as work, school, or home for your every day exercise.

I hope it goes without saying that if your current activity level is not at all close to this, ease up to it. Don’t go from 0 to 150 minutes. Start with 10 minutes a day, then 15, and slowly get yourself up to where you should be. Same with the heart rate - don’t push yourself until you’re comfortable.

Another important thing to do when you first start out is to know where you are today. A watch like Apple Watch or Fitbit will give you lots of data about your daily activity level, but even a simple pedometer app downloaded to your phone will give you an idea of how much you move (how many steps) you get per day. For most of us, our goal should be 10,000 or above. If you’re near there, give yourself a goal to get there! If you’re not, remember to start slow, adding maybe 25% of your total per week until you’re getting to 10,000 steps with regularity.

In terms of equipment you need to start doing cardiovascular exercise, that really depends on what you’re doing. Of course if you want to bike, you need a bike. If you want to jump rope, you need a jump rope. But bare minimum, most of these exercises are done on your feet and so a good pair of running or cross-training shoes is a must. Since most are also done outside, make sure you’re taking proper weather precautions: a good sweat wicking shirt or jacket, hat and sun protection. That’s the nice thing about running, walking, and hiking: sure you can get some fancy stuff (everything from fancy clothes to accessories to tracking apps) but once you’ve got a good set of shoes you’re all set!

I hope you feel encouraged to start your own cardiovascular training. Remember, start at a level that’s appropriate for you and ease up until you’ve hit the training goals we talked about today.

Please reach out here on the blog or on any of our social media pages with any questions or to get started with a free session to try us out!


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