A cardio workout is any activity that increases your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time.
Regular aerobic exercise should be part of your fitness routine along with balance, flexibility, and strength training.
Cardio training can include both moderate intensity activities (such as walking and household chores) to vigorous intensity activities (like cycling and swimming).
The health benefits of cardio range from improved heart health and enhanced immunity to stress management and weight loss.
Whether you want to improve your heart health, sleep better, lose weight, or manage stress, regular cardiovascular exercise can help. In fact, incorporating a regular cardio workout into your fitness routine can deliver a variety of both physical and mental health benefits.
Don’t worry—you don’t need to be a long-distance runner to weave cardio activity into your fitness routine. Why? Because lots of different forms of physical activity count as cardio exercise (in addition to running). For instance, you might enjoy swimming, dancing, hiking, cycling, or doing a HIIT workout (high intensity interval training). These and many other activities (including housework and gardening) are all considered cardiovascular exercise.
How much cardio do you need? The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours (or 150 minutes) of heart-pumping physical activity every week.  (The AHA bases these recommendations on the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.) This translates to roughly 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 to 7 days every week.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of cardio and how to add aerobic activity to your workout routine.
What Is Cardio?
Along with balance, flexibility, and strength training, cardiovascular activity is one of the four types of exercise you need to stay healthy. Also called endurance exercise or aerobic exercise, cardio is any activity that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a prolonged period of time.
As a refresher, the word “aerobic” literally means “with oxygen.” So, when you do aerobic exercise, your breathing regulates the amount of oxygen that gets to your muscles to help them move. 
6 Different Forms Of Cardio
The different types of cardio workouts can be categorized as either moderate intensity or vigorous intensity, and they’re based on how the activity affects heart rate and breathing. Here are some easy guidelines and examples of different kinds of cardiovascular exercise:
Moderate Intensity Cardio: If you can talk but not sing during the activity, then you’re doing moderate-intensity exercise. Examples include :
Brisk walking (3-4 mph)
Heavy cleaning (mopping, vacuuming, washing windows)
Bicycling (slower than 10 mph on even terrain)
General gardening, mowing lawn
Vigorous Intensity Cardio: If you’re not able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath, then you’re doing vigorous-intensity exercise. Examples include [3,4]:
Race walking, jogging, or running
Bicycling (10 mph or faster, may include hills)
Carrying heavy loads
Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
Health Benefits Of Cardio
Cardiovascular fitness delivers health benefits from head to toe. Read on to discover some cardio benefits you might not know about:
Increased Mood & Energy
Engaging in regular cardio exercise releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine, as well as endorphins that can improve mental well-being, promote relaxation, improve energy level, increase self-confidence, and help relieve stress. [5,6,7]
Immune System Function
Regular cardio exercise may help your immune system. How? With moderate physical activity, inflammatory responses are decreased, and lymphocyte and immune cell circulation is increased, which can help activateyour body’s immune response.
Enhanced Brain Health
Did you know that regular exercise can support your cognitive health? Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn supports cognitive function, as well as memory, attention, and executive processing. The good news is these positive effects are seen in both younger and older adults. 
Maintaining A Healthy Weight
When paired with a nutritious, balanced diet, regular exercise in the form of aerobic activitycan help you maintain a healthy weight, because you will burn more energy throughout the day than you would by being sedentary.  For the most impact, aim for either a moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity.
Supports Your Heart Health
You probably can feel that when you exercise, your heart beats faster. So, what does this mean for your heart? An increased heart rate increases your breathing, which increases the oxygen in your blood. Your blood vessels widen so they can carry more blood to your muscles and then back to your lungs. Thus, cardio activity helps your heart pump blood more efficiently, enhancing blood circulation throughout the body. That’s good news for your heart! 
Because physical activity helps promote relaxation, it can also improve the quality of your sleep—both in its ability to help you doze off quicker and sleep more soundly. Combine a regular exercise routine with good sleep habits to improve your sleep even more. Tip: Don’t work out too close to bedtime (within two hours of going to sleep), as this can make it harder to fall asleep. 
Tips For Cardio Exercise
Before starting any exercise program (including cardiovascular training), talk to your healthcare provider to ensure you take a safe approach and choose activities best suited to your specific health needs and goals. Plus, if you’ll be exercising based on your target heart rate, your provider can help determine the appropriate range based on your age.  In general, the American Heart Association suggests aiming for a target heart rate of 50-70% of maximum heart rate during moderate intensity activities, while aiming for 70-85% of maximum heart rate during vigorous physical activity. 
Before you start your workout, it’s important to warm up. This helps prepare your muscles for more intense activity by gradually increasing blood flow to the muscles, which can help lower the chance of injury. It also preps your body by slowly increasing your heart rate. Spend about 5-10 minutes moving at a low intensity and stretching the muscles you’ll be using in your workout. 
If you’re new to cardio exercises, begin with easy activities that don’t require a lot of training or equipment. You might do jumping jacks, go for a brisk walk, jog a short distance, or even dance to music. As you get accustomed to doing cardio, you’ll start to build your endurance (so you can exercise for longer periods) and increase both your pace (so you can move quicker) and your intensity (so you get your heart pumping and do more vigorous activity).
After you finish your workout, spend another 5-10 minutes cooling down, again gradually decreasing the pace, moving at a low intensity, and stretching the muscles you just used in your workout.
Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that boosts your heart rate and keeps it up for an extended period of time. Regular cardio exercise should be part of your fitness routine along with balance, flexibility, and strength training. Also called aerobic exercise, cardio can vary in intensity levels, including both moderate intensity activities (such as walking and household chores) and vigorous intensity activities (like cycling and swimming). The physical and mental health benefits of cardio workouts include improved heart health, weight loss, enhanced cognitive function, and improved sleep.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201-217. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009.
Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018;9:509. Published 2018 Apr 27. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.