What is the Best
Running? Biking? Swimming?
People often ask, "What is the best cardiovascular exercise?"
The answer is simple: There really is no
"best" exercise. All types have benefits, and no one exercise will produce
greater results than the others.
To find the best cardiovascular exercise for
you, look at what you enjoy and what will increase your heart rate.
Different types of
Cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercise is any
continuous activity that gets your heart working and can be sustained from 15
to 60 minutes or beyond. Common cardiovascular activities include jogging,
cycling and hiking.
At health clubs, you'll find machines for
stair climbing, rowing and elliptical cross-training (your feet move in an
elliptical shape), as well as aerobics classes.
The two main types of cardiovascular
exercise are weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing.
Weight-bearing: With weight-bearing
exercises, your feet and legs support your body weight. Examples include
running, stair climbing and rope jumping. These are great for strengthening
Non-weight-bearing: Here, the body is
supported during exercise (i.e., you are not carrying your body weight), as in
bicycling, rowing and swimming. These exercises tend to be easier on your back,
knees and other joints and can have a lower risk of injury than weight-bearing
Getting in your zone
For the best results, you need to get in
your zone heart rate zone, that is.
"Exercising at the correct level of
intensity is important for proper effectiveness," said Dale Huff, R.D.,
C.S.C.S. and co-owner of NutriFormance Fitness, Therapy and Performance in St.
Louis. "Exercising too lightly may not produce adequate results, while
exercising too hard risks injury and exhaustion. For optimal benefits, get in
your target heart rate zone and stay there while exercising regularly."
You can roughly calculate your target heart
rate zone by taking 60 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. One formula
(there are many) for determining your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age,
according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Another more accurate
but also more expensive way to figure out your maximum heart rate
is to be tested in various cardio exercises at a physiology lab.
To help you stay in the right heart range,
many fitness equipment manufacturers offer cardiovascular machines that include
heart rate sensors. For example, Life Fitness treadmills, total-body elliptical
Cross-Trainers, Lifecycle exercise bikes and stairclimbers have Lifepulse
digital hand sensors and heart rate Zone Training workout programs that
automatically adjust the resistance level based on your heart rate. Or better
yet, purchase a heart rate monitor that you can wear during all of
your workouts to always know the effectiveness of your workout.
The bottom line
Figure out what cardiovascular activities
you enjoy and will do consistently. For best results, mix up your workouts.
"Over time, your body gets more efficient,
so you burn fewer calories doing the same exercise. In addition, without
variety, boredom can quickly set in," according to Nicole Irlbeck, M.S., a
certified athletic trainer in Chicago.
Walk outside one day. For your next workout,
try an aerobics tape. Then swim laps or use the stairclimber at the gym. If you
prefer a certain exercise or machine, shake things up by incorporating interval
training into your routine. Adjust the speed, resistance or incline and push
hard for a few minutes. Recover, and then step it up again.
"Interval training is an excellent way to
vary your training, increase your results, get better conditioned and fend off
boredom," Irlbeck said. "Using cardiovascular machines at the gym is an easy
and efficient way to start interval training because most are able to monitor
your time, intensity and even your heart rate."
Your options are endless. Jump on a
treadmill, go for a run outside, hop on a Lifecycle or dive into a pool
just choose an activity that gets your heart pumping. The "best" cardiovascular
exercise is what you enjoy and will do again and again.