For a strong and healthy heart & lungs, include some cardio exercise in your weekly fitness plan. But don't overdo it, 20-30 minute, three times a week, is sufficient. And vary the type of cardio exercise you do, not just endless running or cross-trainer! If you do the same type of cardio workout all the time, you'll neglect other aspects of fitness, like core strength, and upper body strength. Like every decent personal trainer in London, I encourage my clients to do a wide range of exercise for all-round strength and fitness.
Cardiovascular training not only strengthens your heart (which after all is your most important muscle), but also your lungs and your whole circulatory system. Cardiovascular fitness is also known as aerobic fitness, because you're using oxygen as your main source of energy for a sustained period. Exercise which demands fast bursts of energy (such as sprinting or lifting heavy weights in the gym) is known as anaerobic exercise ('without oxygen'), where other energy systems (lactic acid system, and creatine phosphate system) provide the energy for a short period, rather than oxygen. Then when you're totally out of breath, and these very short term energy systems become exhausted, an 'oxygen debt' has to be repaid in the form of heavy breathing until your heart rate is back to normal.
As a personal fitness trainer in London with over 12 years experience, I've had clients who either love cardio, and even do too much (yes it's possible to do too much cardio exercise!), or hate it and require my powers of motivation and persuasion to encourage them to do some cardio every week.
Most people mistakenly think that the main purpose of cardio training is to burn fat and lose weight. While it can help the fat burning process, it is certainly not the most effective form of exercise for losing weight. Resistance exercise that builds muscle is the best way to burn fat. However, cardio is still a vital part of your exercise regime, primarily for a healthy heart, lungs, and circulatory system. There will be some fat loss too, but this is very much a secondary effect of cardio (ie- aerobic) exercise.
Here's a summary of the main types of cardiovascular exercise, which should be done for around 20-30 minutes, three times a week, at moderate intensity to begin with. When you've built up a solid base of cardio fitness, you can progress to interval training, then on to high intensity interval training (HIIT). And don't forget to stretch after each cardio session.
You'll find plenty of detail about running on the running page, so click the link if you like running or fancy taking it up. If you dislike running, the good news is that there are lots of alternatives. And if you don't like the idea of running outside, there's always the treadmill in the gym, which you can set to different speeds and even inclines. Because of the impact of your feet striking the ground, running has a 'bone building' effect, which some other forms of cardio (cycling, swimming) do not. If you're into marathon running, see my blog post about marathons.
The advantage of running on a treadmill is that you can measure precisely things like your speed and distance. But running outdoors has the advantage of a changing terrain, so you get a more varied and challenging workout.
Walking is the most accessible and versatile forms of aerobic fitness training. It's ideal if you're obese and running is too much for you to begin with. And it puts less stress on the joints if you have any joint problems. For anyone who finds running too intimidating or unpleasant, fast walking is an attractive option. Make sure you keep you body relaxed, particularly neck and shoulders, and keep your posture tall and upright, best achieved by looking forward rather than down. You're also less likely to bump into things this way (or poke your eye out on a tree branch), but if you walk on uneven ground, look out for obstacles on the ground ahead of you.
For variety, you can vary the length of your stride, vary the terrain (up hills, slopes, walking on the beach), and vary the speed too.
London isn't the most walking-friendly city, so find a route with minimum road-crossings. And never walk on the road itself! The famous author Stephen King was nearly killed recently while out walking on the hard-shoulder of a road.
This is growing in popularity, and there are several nordic walking groups and instructors in London. It activates all the muscles in the body, to a greater extent than ordinary walking.
If you're not keen on cycling on London's roads, there are various off-road cycling routes in and around London. Cycling has the advantage of putting less stress on the joints than running. Adjust the saddle height so that your knee is always slightly bent at the lowest point of the cycling movement, and keep your back straight rather than hunched. And don't grip the handle-bars too tightly.
For more information on cycling clubs in London click this link.
Particularly useful in the winter, when the snow and ice make running and cycling outdoors much less attractive. There are lots of swimming pools in London to choose from, click the link to find one near you. If you never learnt to swim, or your technique is a little rusty, it's worth getting some lessons. The swimming page also has a directory of swimming coaches in London.
Swimming burns more calories than any other form of cardiovascular exercise, because your arms and legs are working equally hard, and your core is working hard to stabilise you in the water. And because your body is supported by the water, it's ideal exercise if you have joint problems or if you're obese. You will find that swimming is harder work than you think, so begin slowly and build up steadily.
My personal training clients in London get a taste of cardio boxing in most sessions. It's a great form of aerobic exercise, indoors or out, and it has a bone-building effect on the upper body, which most other forms of aerobic exercise do not. The technique is very easy to pick up, and gets the heart rate up in no time.
There are many sports which will give you a good cardiovascular workout: tennis, badminton, squash, football, rugby, the list goes on. Sadly, sports like darts and snooker don't count as cardio exercise.
Cardiovascular exercise is quite a complex science. Here's a guide to some of the more common terminology:
This is how much blood your heart pumps per beat. The higher your stroke volume, the fitter you are, as your heart muscle is more efficient.
This is a measure of your aerobic fitness. Your VO2 max is the level at which you've reached your maximum intake of oxygen, which continues at a steady state despite continued increase in exercise demands. Put another way, it's your maximum capacity to use oxygen in exercise. V stands for volume, O2 stands for oxygen, and max stands for maximum. VO2 max is measured either in absolute terms: litres of oxygen used per minute, or relative terms: ml of oxygen per kg of bodyweight. It's a test of your lung capacity, efficiency of your oxygen uptake from lungs to bloodstream, and efficiency of your heart to pump oxygen round your body.