Cardio for Beginners

Whether you love it or hate it, cardiorespiratory exercise is crucial when it comes to reaching your goals of losing weight, reducing body fat or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Research shows there are many benefits to cardio activity including its ability to decrease:

  • Daily fatigue
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertension
  • Non-insulin dependent diabetes and
  • Obesity

At the same time, cardio helps boost your:

  • Sense of well-being
  • Immune system
  • Blood lipid profile and
  • Overall physical performance at work and at play

While there are several levels to cardio training, for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on some guidelines for beginners and anyone who may be getting back into a fitness routine after a hiatus.  (As usual, I base these guidelines using the essential information I studied through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.) Your cardio activity should focus on maintaining a zone one heart rate which is approximately 65% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. Here’s what that means for you:

  1. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220.
  2. Multiply your max heart rate by .65.
  3. Multiply your max heart rate by .75.

To use myself as an example:

  1. 220-37 = 183
  2. 183 X 0.65 = 119
  3. 183 X 0.75 = 137
  4. Laura’s Zone One Heart Rate = 119 – 137

If you’re working within the parameters of zone one for cardio, it’s likely you are also in stage one of your overall exercise program. (NASM refers to this as the stabilization level.) If you’ve never worked out before, you may want to try to reach your zone one heart rate for a maximum five to ten minutes and then spend another 20 minutes simply walking at a good pace, climbing the stairs in your home or getting really dirty in the yard by cleaning up the garden.  Your goal should be to eventually maintain your zone one heart rate for at least 30 minutes.  This can take some time.  A “newbie” may need two months or longer to meet this demand, but remember: there’s no finish line here. You’ve made a commitment to exercise and start taking better care of yourself, so while you don’t want to just dial it in, make the journey work for you.

A final note about measuring heart rate. You’ve made the decision to make fitness a part of your life, so along with a good pair of sneakers and breathable workout wear,  invest in a heart rate monitor.  Countless studies show it is the device that provides the most accurate heart rate readings. So, whether you’re using a treadmill in the gym or running or walking along the open road, you’ll be able to see if you’re really “in the zone.”

I hope this brief session of cardio 101 will help get your heart pumping safely and effectively so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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About LauraLovesFitness

After spending more than 10 years in the communications industry, this lifetime fitness lover and newly certified fitness professional wants to share my passion for health and well-being with others.

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Fitness, Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. great info as usual. I have a question- does your weight enter into what your zone heart rate should be when exercising? I seem to work out at a much higher heart rate. Is that a bad thing?

    • Hello Loretta! You pose a very good question. First off, while the numbers you calculated for zone one are a range, they are by no means an absolute and can vary from person to person. Weight can play a factor in making the heart work harder, as there is simply more of the body to move. Also, if you haven’t worked out in awhile or have never worked out before, your heart will most likely be beating faster to catch up on the work you’ve been missing out on! I’m not sure what your numbers are, but if you re-calculate by multiplying your max heart rate by .80 and .85, that would give you a range for a zone two heart rate. If the number you calculated comes in within 86% – 90% of your maximum heart rate, then you’re at zone three, which you don’t want to work out at for too long and risk overtraining. Overall, if you’re slightly above your zone one range, and you feel okay when you’re exercising (not too short of breath, and do not experience any chest discomfort), you are most likely still in a “safe” zone. However, my best piece of advice would be to ask your physician if he or she thinks your training zone is safe and effective for you based on your health background. I hope that helps. Keep up the good work!

  2. I too seem to work out at a higher rate than the formula calls for. Am I being counter productive? On another note, I just love your blog! Is there a way to add the email addresses of others who might be interested in your health related wisdom? Sort of like what Groupon and Living Social do? Thanks again for your blog!

    • Hello Debbie. Thanks for taking the time to check in! I believe you are very similar to me in that you workout multiple days a week and are involved in various types of exercise ranging from boxing to resistance training. That being said, I would consider you to be beyond the “beginner” stages of a fitness routine, which means you would most likely be looking to hit zone two for your cardio training. That would be calculated by taking your max heart rate (220 – age) and multiplying it by .80 and .85 to find the range for that zone. If your number is above the peak in that range, you’d be in zone three (86% – 90% of max heart rate). That’s good for interval training, but should not be maintained for long periods of time as you risk overtraining. I hope that helps!
      As to your offer of adding email addresses, I will have to check if WordPress has a “social” email option, howeve, if your friends are okay with it, I imagine you could click on “follow blog” and enter his or her name and email address on their behalf. They would then have to confirm they want to sign up for the subscription by checking for an email in their inbox, but again, you could get the process started for them. I appreciate your efforts to help me reach more people and hopefully help them on their fitness journey. I truly appreciate your support!

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