Let’s get moving! In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of cardio exercise and help you choose the best way to get your heart pumping.
What is cardio and why is it important?
Short for cardiovascular training (and also known as aerobic exercise), cardio refers to any type of exercise that elevates your heart rate and challenges your cardiovascular system. In a nutshell, cardio is vital to your overall health. Some of the many benefits of regular cardio exercise include:
Maintaining a healthy weight
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
Lowering blood pressure
Improving cholesterol levels
Increasing life expectancy
How much cardio should I do?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Think 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, or 10- to 15-minute chunks of time spread throughout the day.
Not quite there yet? Don’t sweat it. Start where you are, and gradually work up to 150 minutes a week. We’ve got plenty of options to get you moving. Let’s dive in.
7 cardio exercises for every level of fitness
Whether you’re new to cardio or looking to change up your training plan, it’s important to find a workout that meets you where you are. Maybe you’re recovering from an injury. Or maybe you’re short on time. Some days you’re energized and eager for a challenge, and other days you just need to take it easy. Your workouts should fun, enjoyable, and, most importantly, fit your schedule and lifestyle. Let’s explore some of the most versatile cardio exercises and their modifications, so you can find the one that’ll keep you moving on the regular.
Yep, walking counts as cardio! Just make sure to challenge yourself with a brisk pace that raises your heart rate and gets you breathing a little harder for the duration of the walk. The beauty of walking is that you can do it anytime, anywhere. Short on time? Break it up into three 10-minute walks a day. Walking is also easy on your joints and great for beginners who are working up to higher intensity cardio workouts. All you need to get moving is a comfy and supportive pair of walking shoes like the Addiction.
Great for: Everyone. Walking is low-impact, beginner-friendly, and easy to fit into a busy schedule.
Dial it down: Go at your own pace. Any amount of movement is better than none. Start with just one 10-minute walk a day and work up from there.
Amp it up: Try a hilly route or a nature trail for more challenging terrain, or add small hand or ankle weights for extra resistance.
No surprises here. From helping you manage stress to protecting your ticker, the head-to-toe health benefits of running are well-documented. Wondering how often you should run as a beginner? Start slow. 10 minutes of walking and five minutes of running, repeated 2-4 times per workout, three days a week, is a good place to start. A happy run also starts with happy feet. Step into softness in the Ghost 15, our best-selling running shoe. Or check out our Shoe Finder to find your perfect pair.
Great for: Goal-oriented exercisers, outdoor enthusiasts, and everyone, really.
Dial it down: Increase the length of your walking intervals and listen to your body when it’s asking you to rest. Running on a treadmill typically provides a softer running surface, which means less impact on your bones and joints.
Amp it up: Increase your distance by up to 10% each week, try speed workouts, or train for a 5K or 10K run.
Why are stair workouts so killer, even if you’re in decent shape? One word: Gravity. As you climb stairs, your body is constantly fighting against gravity to move upwards — and propelling your body vertically takes a lot of strength and power. Climbing the stairs is a quick energy booster that you can do at home, at work, or anywhere in between. Bonus: Running upstairs can boost your running performance.
Great for: Anyone looking for a quick but challenging workout.
Dial it down: Walk up and down the stairs at a comfortable pace, taking breaks whenever needed.
Amp it up: Increase the intensity by sprinting up the stairs and jogging back down, or try skipping a step as you climb.
Swimming is a great low-impact, full-body cardio workout for all fitness levels. If you have sore hips, knees, or ankles, listen up. According to the American Council on Exercise, the buoyancy of water reduces your body weight by 90%. This means your joints only have to support 10% of their usual weight load. That’s great news for beginners and anyone with arthritis or sensitive joints.
Great for: Beginners, exercisers with joint issues, athletes recovering from injuries, and anyone with access to a pool.
Dial it down: Brand-new to swimming? Start with swim lessons from a certified instructor. Been a while since you hit the water? Begin with a time goal, such as 15 minutes, rather than distance, to build up your stamina.
Amp it up: Focus on increasing your speed or distance, or work on your most challenging stroke. Butterfly, anyone?
If you want to soak up the great outdoors but don’t want to pound the pavement, cycling is another great low-impact cardio exercise that’s gentle on your joints. Cycling can be a moving meditation — a time where you can tune into your body and mind, and let your breath and the sensations around you keep you present. Your bike also doubles as a mode of transport, so you can get your cardio in while commuting or running errands. Win-win! Gear up for the ride with our All Altitude Jacket. This lightweight, packable jacket is both wind- and water-resistant, so you can face the elements with confidence.
Great for: Beginners, outdoor enthusiasts, exercisers with joint issues.
Dial it down: Focus on the fundamentals, like turning, breaking, and shifting gears, and opt for flat routes on smooth pavement.
Amp it up: Ride uphill to boost your endurance, or cycle with a buddy who can challenge you to keep up a good speed.
6. Jump rope
Want to torch mega calories but short on time? Hop to it. Jumping rope is a high-intensity, full-body workout that demands constant movement. Translation: It’ll get your heart rate up, pronto. Not only is jumping rope an effective workout on its own, but it also makes a great warmup that could boost your running speed. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that runners who warmed up with 5 minutes of jump rope prior to running (2-4x/week over 10 weeks) improved their 3K time significantly more than those who didn’t jump rope to warm up.
Great for: Time-crunched exercisers.
Dial it down: If you’re new to skipping, try jumping without the rope at first. Once you’re ready, grab the rope and go at a slow, steady pace to get used to the rhythm. Start with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off and work up to jumping rope for 5 minutes straight. You got this!
Amp it up: Work on your balance with one-legged or side-to-side jumps, or up the intensity with high knees or double-unders (when the rope passes under your feet two times per jump).
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great alternative to running on bad-weather days or when you want to try something new. HIIT alternates between heart-pumping high-intensity exercises and lower-intensity recovery or rest periods. For example, a quick nine-minute HIIT workout might look like three rounds of:
Jump squats for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds
Push-ups for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds
High knees for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds
If you’re in a time crunch and want to work up a sweat quickly, HIIT can give you the best bang for your buck. A 20-minute HIIT workout can usually give you the same calorie burn and effort as a 40-minute run.
Great for: Busy bees, intermediate to advance-level exercisers.
Dial it down: If you have joint issues, ditch the jumping and opt for low-impact moves like squats, lunges, and planks.
Amp it up: Increase your work-to-recovery ratio. If you’re used to 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, try 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of recovery.
This is a carousel. Use next and Previous buttons to navigate.
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.