Cardio: how much should we be doing?


We can improve our lifestyle in many ways but one of the most effective changes we can make to impact our health positively is to increase how much exercise we do - and you don't suddenly have to start planning your first marathon to see an improvement.

Just 30 minutes of brisk walking each day will make a huge difference to both your physical fitness and your mental wellbeing - but sadly, many of us are nowhere near as active as we should be.

Also known as aerobic exercise, cardiovascular activities increase the amount of oxygen delivered to and used by your muscles. Cardiovascular exercise is any form of 'whole-body' activity that rhythmically works the major muscle groups, such as the legs, for prolonged periods of time (five minutes or more). Whether that's a brisk walk with the dog, or a competitive game of football, it improves the efficiency of both the heart and the lungs.

How much cardio keeps us healthy?

Thirty minutes of moderate-level cardiovascular exercise at least five days a week is enough to benefit your health significantly. This can come in a number of forms, including light cycling, brisk walking, or even vigorous gardening. You can turn to more vigorous activities such as running and competitive sports as your fitness improves, and this will have an even greater impact on your health and fitness.

What are the benefits of cardiovascular exercise?

Regular physical activity can significantly reduce your chances of developing several major conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, dementia, depression and osteoporosis as well as leave you feeling more energetic and better about yourself.

Some benefits are less well known - if you have trouble sleeping you may be able to improve your insomnia with more exercise and it is also a great way of dealing with stress, boosting your self-esteem and improving your brain function.

Other benefits include keeping your bones strong, helping to keep conditions such as asthma and arthritis in check, and improving the way your joints function.

Increasing your activity

One of the easiest ways to introduce more exercise into your life is simply to walk more often. Whether you get off the bus earlier on your way to work or school, or you introduce a walk after your evening meal, walking is a perfect start to increasing your exercise levels. Leaving the car at home when you need to go to the local shop, and walking or cycling instead is also an idea, or if you do have to drive, park further away from the shop when you arrive.

When you're at work, try to have conversations with work colleagues on the move if you can, and use the stairs instead of the lift. Have to talk to a work colleague the other side of the building? Don't use the telephone, walk to their desk and speak to them face-to-face. You might also want to go for a walk at lunch time, rather than spend the time at your desk. It will help reduce your levels of stress, too.