The idea of starting a cardio exercise routine can be intimidating — but it's a worthwhile pursuit. The benefits of regular cardio activity include improved heart health, a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, increased energy, better sleep and, of course, weight management.
To truly reap these benefits, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation of 30 minutes of cardio a day, five times a week. To a beginner, that might seem like a stretch. Luckily, any cardio is better than nothing, so you can start with just 10 to 15 minutes a day and work your way up.
Picking a Cardio Activity
There's one main thing to keep in mind when choosing the type of cardio you'd like to start with: If you don't like the activity, you won't do it. Hate running? Don't try to take up jogging for your exercise. Prefer to be indoors? Biking probably isn't your thing.
Luckily, anything that raises your heart rate and keeps it there for a sustained period of time counts as cardio. That means you could take up walking, cycling, dancing, tennis, Zumba, step aerobics, rock climbing or any other myriad activities as your preferred form of cardio. You don't even have to join a gym — at-home workouts are just as effective, provided you put in the effort.
Your workouts don't have to be super-hard and intense. As a beginner, you'll most benefit from moderate-intensity cardio, which means that you're breathing slightly heavier than normal, but you're not panting and gasping for air. You're also warm, but not overly sweaty.
Sticking With It
There's probably a reason why you're just now starting a cardio exercise routine — it's easy to find excuses to skip your sweat session. Make it a little easier to stick to the routine by:
- Scheduling cardio. You pencil meetings and appointments into your calendar; make cardio a regular daily appointment, too.
- Pick the right time. It sounds great to get up and hit the treadmill first thing in the morning, but be realistic if you're a night owl. Choose the right time of day for your cardio, making it the time that you have the most energy.
- Prepare in advance. Lay those workout clothes out the night before and put a power bar on the kitchen counter, where you can grab it on your way out the door. In order to stick to cardio exercise, you need to make it as easy on yourself as possible.
Ramp It Up
After you've started a beginner's routine for cardio, take it up a notch by incorporating resistance training. Although you might not initially think of lifting weights as a cardio exercise, you can make it one by keeping the rest time between sets very short. This will raise your heart rate, fulfilling that important definition of cardio.
The CDC recommends incorporating weights into your routine two days a week for 20 minutes at a time. During each session, do bodyweight exercises that target each major muscle group of your body. For example, push-ups work your chest and arms, squats work your thighs and glutes and planks work your whole core region. Move from one activity to the next rather quickly to keep your heart beating fast.