What is the best form of cardiovascular exercise? The easiest answer is whatever you enjoy doing the most…or in some cases, whatever form of cardio you can tolerate the most! Ideally, if there is some physical activity you already like to do such as basketball, tennis or cycling, I recommend participating in those activities. In terms of what’s “the best”, there is not necessarily a type of cardiovascular exercise that is better than the other. Some forms of cardio are more intense than others while other forms of cardio usual require a longer time commitment than others. What is best for you is really based on what your goals are and how much time you have available. Cardiovascular exercise is typically broken down heart rate zones based on your maximum heart rate (HR max). The simple equation to determine your HR max is 220-your age. For example, if you are 40 years old your max heart rate is 180 (220-40=180). There are 3 main heart rate zones:
Fat Burning/Weight Loss Zone (60%-69% of HR max)-if you goal is to lose body fat and slim down you want to keep your heart rate in this training zone. To maximize the fat burning effect of this cardio zone, it is recommend doing at least 45 minutes of cardio.
Aerobic/Endurance Zone (70%-79% of HR max)- if you goal is to improve your cardiovascular endurance or increase your performance in a cardiovascular dependent sports such, as running or soccer, then you want to be training in this zone. Duration time can vary depending on your level of fitness. If your goal is to improve performance, a minimum time commitment should be 60 minutes. If your goal is general fitness then 30-60 minutes is ideal.
Anaerobic/High Intensity Zone (80%-89% of HR max)-this zone is regularly used by high performance athletes such as football players and track athletes. High intensity cardio is an excellent way to change up your cardio and challenge your cardiovascular fitness by training in a different zone. Because the intensity is high, the duration is generally shorter. 30-45 minutes is recommended.
If you prefer getting your work in on a cardiovascular machine, most machines have several pre-selected programs that you can choose at the start of your workout that target the different heart rate zones. You can customize the workout for duration, intensity and speed. To keep track of your heart rate I suggest making an investment in a heart rate monitor. It consists of a watch that displays your heart rate and a chest band sensor that picks ups your heart rate. There are advanced monitors that can set your heart rate zone and track the number of calories burned. A simple monitor that displays your heart rate is sufficient. Most cardiovascular machines have built in heart rate monitors and sensors on the grips or handle bars that will allow you to track your heart rate as well.