Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, refers to any form of rhythmic physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing rate so that the heart and lungs can deliver oxygen to the working muscles. Essentially, this is the type of exercise that leaves you gasping for breath and scares many people.
People often do cardio to lose weight, but it offers many health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and falls. Research shows that cardio also improves cognitive function and mental health.
The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio per week.
There are many ways to do cardio, from playing a team sport, to cycling to work, to jogging. If you’re willing and able to invest in a piece of equipment, you can also do cardio at home.
Treadmills, stationary bikes, and rowing machines are the most common pieces of cardio equipment you’ll find in a typical gym, and you can also buy any of these for my house. Here’s how to know which one is best for you.
In terms of workout effectiveness, it’s hard to ignore the treadmill. Running uses most of your major muscle groups and therefore leads to higher heart rate and energy expenditure than other activities, such as cycling.
Additionally, because running on a treadmill requires you to support your own body weight, it also helps build and maintain your bones, keeping them strong. This becomes even more important as you age because the risk of conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis as bone density decreases increases.
But treadmills may not be for everyone. The weight-bearing nature of running can worsen pain and cause swelling in people with common joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.
Additionally, treadmills may require more maintenance (since most treadmills have motors) and can take up a lot of space.
Stationary bikes offer another convenient means of achieving your cardiovascular goals. Proper bike adjustment is important to ensure you are comfortable and reduce your risk of injury. The general rule is that you should bend your knees slightly, as shown in the image below, when your leg is at the bottom of the pedaling stroke.
Although cycling has significant benefits for cardiovascular and metabolic health, because it is not weight-bearing, it does not benefit your bones to the same degree as walking and running. On the other hand, it provides a great cardiovascular workout without stressing your joints.
If you’re looking to get the best cardio workout in the least amount of time, then the rowing machine may be for you. Because rowing requires you to use all major muscle groups including your upper body, your heart and lungs have to work even harder than when running and cycling to supply oxygen to your body. those muscles are working. This means that the energy expenditure when rowing is equivalent to running and greater than that of cycling.
But before you rush out to buy a new rowing machine, there are two issues to consider. First, the technical challenge of rowing is arguably greater than that of running or cycling, as rowing skills are often less familiar to the average person. While a coach or trainer can help with this, remember that good rowing technique should be felt primarily in the legs, not in the arms and back.
Second, the non-weight-bearing nature of rowing means it misses out on the same bone health benefits that treadmills provide although there is some evidence that it can still increase bone density to a smaller extent. However, like cycling, this disadvantage of rowing can be overcome by offering a more joint-friendly option, providing a great alternative for those with joint pain but still want to keep your heart and lungs healthy.
It depends on your goals, what your current health status is, and most importantly, what you enjoy most. The best exercise is the exercise that is done. So choose whichever device you find most interesting, as this will increase the likelihood that you’ll stick with it for the long term.
Lewis Ingram is a Lecturer in Physiotherapy, University of South Australia. Hunter Bennett is Lecturer in Exercise Science, University of South Australia. Saravana Kumar is Professor of Allied Health and Health Services Research, University of South Australia.
This article was first published on The Conversation.
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