Fun Cardio Workout Routines For A Healthy Heart

Fun Cardio Workout Routines For A Healthy Heart

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes 5 times a week, which is no small feat if you’re new to fitness or haven’t managed to establish a regular workout habit.

It gets all the more daunting if you find aerobic exercise—also known as cardio—boring. Even if you’re motivated and psyched for a great workout, for a lot of us, facing 30 minutes on the treadmill can feel like you’re looking down the barrel of a gun.

That’s why you need to infuse your workouts with variety. The good news is there are a wide range of fun and engaging cardio workouts that can help you reach your fitness goals.

This article will provide must-know information about cardio and give you a variety of workouts to keep things interesting and optimize the benefits.

What Is Cardio?

Cardio is casual parlance for cardiovascular exercise or exercise that improves the health and function of the heart and vascular system (blood vessels). Aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, cycling, or rowing is the image most people have of cardio.

What most people don’t know is that it’s possible to train other forms of exercise such as weights, sports, and intervals and get similar or greater cardiovascular benefits. This is important because it gives you more options when choosing cardio routines so that workouts stay exciting and you keep you coming back for more. 

What Are The Benefits?

Increasing your cardiovascular fitness has numerous benefits and is essential for longevity and wellness. Naturally, cardio improves the efficiency of the heart. It lowers resting heart, while allowing the heart to pump more blood with each best.

In simple terms, this means you’ll have more energy and stamina, while also being able to climb the stairs or play tag with the kids without getting too out of breath.

Physiologically, it means that more oxygenated blood reaches your brain and muscles, but with less effort. Additionally, you get increases in hormones that keep blood vessels healthy and pliable, while lowering blood pressure.

You also have increases in the density and number of capillaries that carry blood to the muscles, making oxygen delivery more efficient. There is an increase in the mitochondria energy factories in the cell so that your body is better able to burn calories to power physical work.

Finally, your body will benefit metabolically. Insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance improve and your body’s ability to burn body fat increases. This is helpful for managing body weight and it’s a game changer when it comes to preventing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

For some, regular cardio increases appetite and they eat more, eradicating the calories burned during training. Over the long run, this can lead to body fat gain, which is generally the opposite effect of what you are going for.

Additionally, some forms of cardio such as walking, swimming, exercise machines, or biking lead to muscle loss over the long-term. Therefore, it’s important to include either strength training or high-intensity interval training to maintain muscle mass for a higher metabolic rate and better mobility.

Cardio Workout Examples

#1: Steady-State Aerobic Exercise

Let’s start with what we typically think of when it comes to cardio—steady state aerobic exercise. This is when you do some form of exercise for a set period, typically between 20 and 60 minutes. Steady state exercise can be a great chance to think through problems, relieve stress, and release your frustrations after a long day.

There’s any number of ways to do it: Walk or run on a treadmill, do the elliptical, rower, or stationary bike, or go for a swim in the pool. The biggest mistake people make with cardio machines including the treadmill is to hold on to the machine or drape themselves over the handles. This radically reduces the benefit for your heart and muscles. You’ll get better results from lowering the speed or incline of the machine if it’s too hard because you engage your core and stabilizing muscles to a greater degree.

Here are some ways to mix it up and get more out of steady state cardio:

Take it outside. Studies consistently show that people enjoy outdoor exercise and they experience greater physiological benefits including greater calorie burn, better hormone response, and improved mood from training outside.

Add hills. Hills are a great way to increase the intensity of your cardio workout for greater strength and muscle benefits.

Make it social. Training with a friend makes your cardio workout fly by. Having someone to compete against is also a great way to ramp up intensity so that you get more out of your workout.

Listen to an audiobook. Having a great story makes your workout something to look forward to.

#2: Interval Training

Interval training is one of my favorite cardio options because it intersperses rest and work bouts making the time go by faster. Intervals are more fun and you get greater physiological changes than with steady-state aerobic exercise.

For example, studies show greater heart, blood pressure, and insulin benefits from interval training compared to steady-state exercise. Intervals may also trigger protein synthesis, maintaining muscle and supporting metabolic rate. Increased fat burning is another benefit due to a greater need for your body to metabolize energy in a short period of time. This can pay off in terms of reduced body fat. In a series of studies done on overweight men and women, researchers found that 20 minutes of cycling intervals allowed volunteers to lose about 6 pounds of body fat, whereas a work-matched cardio program produced no change in body fat.

Here are a couple of interval training workouts to try:

30-20-10: This protocol is ideal for beginners. It has you working at an easy pace for 30 sec, a moderate pace for 20 sec, and a hard interval for the last 10 sec. Then you start over at an easy pace for 30 sec again. Start with 5 minutes, working up to 20. This can be done on a track outside, a stationary bike, a cardio machine, or even on a regular bike if you have a lot of open road and can vary your pace.

1 to 1 Intervals: This protocol is ideal for novices. Use equal effortful work and easy rest bouts. Start by choosing a length of time for your work interval—say 3 min. Exercise at a moderately intense pace (about 6 or 7 on a level of difficulty scale where 10 is where you have to stop and 1 is incredibly easy) for 3 min followed by active rest interval of the same duration—in this case 3 minutes. For example, you could walk as fast as possible for 3 min and then slow to a leisurely pace for the recovery period before repeating. If you like shorter intervals, try 1 min work bout followed by 1 min active rest.

Short Cycle Sprint Protocol: Also, appropriate for novices, this routine is typically done on an exercise bike and has you sprint for 8 sec and then pedal easily for 12 sec, repeating over and over again until you reach 20 min total. Increase the difficulty by raising the resistance on the bike.

#3: Do Circuit Training

Circuit training with weights is the perfect solution for people who get bored easily or don’t like steady-state cardio. Done properly, studies show that it can improve cardiovascular and metabolic health at the same time as you are building strength and muscle. The key is to stay active during rest periods and program your exercises properly.

For example, one study had women perform a series of weight training exercises interspersed with 90-sec rest periods in which they walked briskly around the gym instead of standing around—or worse sitting on machines.

When designing a circuit training protocol, alternate upper and lower body exercises such as chest press followed by squats, or hamstring curls followed by pulldowns. Start with reps in the 15 to 20 range for 3 sets. After 3 weeks, raise your weights and reduce your reps to the 12 to 15 range. After 3 more weeks, raise weights again and drop your reps to the 8 to 12 range, always walking briskly during rest periods.

Here are some other tricks for getting cardiovascular benefits from a weight training workout:

Lift to failure—the point where you can’t raise the weight anymore due to muscular fatigue.

Use shorter rest periods. Shortening the rest periods to the amount of time it takes to switch between exercises is a great way to raise heart rate and overload the cardiovascular system.

Use eccentric training in which you use an extended phase to lower the weight. Try slowly lowering the weight over 4 seconds and raising it quickly, taking 1 second.

#4: Dancing, Jump Rope & Sports

It’s okay for cardio to be fun. The key is that it raises heart rate, moves your whole body, and requires your blood vessels to re-route blood to the working muscles. A wide range of exercises have this effect.

Dancing (yes, including Zumba), jump rope, and sports such as Frisbee, basketball, and soccer can all serve as a cardio workout. Examples of exercise that won’t suffice are tai chi, yoga, cleaning the house, or volleyball. Although these all have physical benefits, they aren’t going to overload the cardiovascular system sufficiently to induce adaptations.