Cardio training is a form of exercise that makes the heart beat a little faster. This includes walking, running, football and tennis. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the purpose of cardio training, the importance of exercise, and the need to start small.
Cardio exerciseWhen people think of exercise, the one that generally comes to mind is cardio training. Cardio training is short for cardiovascular training, so it’s a form of exercise that causes our heart to beat a little bit faster, causes the blood to pump around, and gets us to breathe a little bit more quickly.

Obvious sorts of cardio training are walking, running, bike riding and swimming. Most sports, with the exception of things like weight lifting and rifle shooting, are cardio type exercises. So football, cricket, tennis and even golf, to a degree, are all cardio type exercises and sports.

Cardio training is really, really important as the heart is an important part of the body. The brain is really important as well, but you probably hear a lot more about heart attacks than most other forms of diseases. And like most parts of the body, if you use it in the right way and look after it, it will keep you going for longer.

So with cardio training, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to get the heart a little bit stronger and more resilient. How do we do that? By basically stressing it a little bit – stressing it to the degree that we get it to work a little bit harder. It’s always those last two reps or that last 50 metres that pushes you that little bit further. So in looking to build up a cardio regimen, we’re looking to improve our stamina, fitness and overall energy capabilities. This happens gradually. Nobody who’s run a marathon has ever gone out and done it the first day – they’ve built it up over time. Swimmers who excel at 1,500 metres haven’t started doing that the first day – they probably started at 25 or 50 metres.

So for those of you who haven’t been doing much exercise, you need to start at a small level. For some of you who haven’t done exercise for a long time, you may want to check with your doctor and have a little bit of a check-up before starting out. But for most people, if you start out at a low level, away you can go.

Walking is a really good form of exercise. You don’t have to raise a major sweat, but you do want to be walking at a pace that is a little bit quicker than just ambling to the letter box. Power walking was very popular for a while and is still a reasonable form of exercise, but just walking itself hits all the buttons in terms of cardio exercise.

Other things we spoke of before, jogging and running are quite good as well. Swimming is an excellent form of cardio exercise. For those who don’t like walking or running and perhaps have problems with their joints, walking through water is also a very good form of exercise. Bike riding is fine and you can do that out and about, or you can do it on an exercise bike at the gym, or in front of the TV if you’re that way inclined. All of these are good forms of exercise.

Cardio exerciseNow, a lot of cardio games or sports – like squash, tennis, football, basketball, the list goes on – are good forms of exercise. If you haven’t done them for a while, you need to be training for them. There’s often been an executive in particular who hasn’t played squash for 15 years, decides they want to get fit, tears out on the squash court and suddenly has problems with a heart attack because they haven’t done the preparation or the training. So it’s really important that if you want to do sports like that, that you do some cardio exercise.

Start at a low level, at something that’s appropriate to you. If you’re not quite sure where to start, have a chat to your doctor. A physio or personal trainer may be able to guide you on the exercise specifics, but for almost everybody you can start at a level of comfort and gradually build up. How do you know you’re building up? Your walking distance goes further. You can go the same distance as last week and not feel quite as tired – that’s the signal to go a little bit further.

For most people, aim for some cardio exercise 3-4 times a week if you can and for a minimum of 30-40 minutes per day. By the end of it, you raise a little bit of a sweat. You don’t have to be drenched with sweat if that’s not your thing, but you do need to have known that you’ve done a little bit of work. If you have, that’s going to stand your health in a really good stead in general, and your cardiac system (which is your heart) in particular.

More information

Fitness For more information on fitness and exercise, including stretches, types of exercise, exercise recovery and exercise with health conditions, as well as some useful videos, see Fitness and Exercise.