About Cardio Exercise

About Cardio Exercise

One of the primary goals of an exercise regimen should be to build and maintain aerobic fitness. Aerobic fitness is the ability of your heart, lungs, and muscles to work together to perform continuous or intermittent rhythmic type work. You can improve aerobic endurance by participating in a program of regular aerobic exercise.

150 minutes moderate activity, 75 minutes vigorous activity

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate—or 75 minutes of vigorous—intensity physical activity per week to gain the health benefits associated with physical activity. Additional health and fitness benefits can be gained if you include at least two days of strength training and train up to 300 minutes of moderate and 150 minutes of vigorous activity. Aerobic fitness activities can improve your health, reduce disease risk, reduce body fat and improve all-around physical fitness.

It’s important to select a type of exercise that uses the large muscles of the body in a continuous, rhythmical fashion, and that is relatively easy to maintain at a consistent intensity. It’s also important to choose exercises that you’ll enjoy and continue to do. With all the possible options out there, selecting the right cardiorespiratory exercise can be challenging.

Choosing the Right Regimen

There are many great activities that can improve cardiorespiratory endurance. Activities can be organized into two basic groups. Both types of activities are great choices for developing a life-long aerobic fitness. As a general rule of thumb, people who have low levels of physical fitness and athleticism or factors that place them at risk for injury should start with Group 1 activities performed at low intensities such as walking and cycling at low speeds and resistance.

Group 1: No Training Needed

The first group of activities are ones that typically can be completed on your own and don’t require special training.

Group 2: More Demanding Activities

The second group of activities are ones that typically require other participants and force the participant to increase or decrease the intensity, change direction or movement pattern, and perform a sport-related skill.

Running on treadmill   Man holding basketball on basketball court

 Group 1: No Training NeededGroup 2: More Demanding Activities 
Exercise Examples 

Elliptical cross training
Cross-country skiing
Stair climbing
Yard work (e.g., mowing, raking, digging, gardening)

Flag football
Water polo
Ultimate frisbee
Agility and Coordination training


No partner needed
Controlled intensity and duration
Lower risk of injury
Requires lower level of coordination

Team/social interaction
Builds athleticism
Involves decision-making skills


Less social interaction
Low athletic skill development
Less decision-making
May be boring to some
Need a partner or group
Typically requires a baseline of fitness
Intensity and duration not always controlled

Energy Expenditure

When you exercise or perform work-related physical tasks your body burns fuel, primarily carbohydrates and fats, to provide the energy needed. The burning of these fuels is called energy expenditure. To maintain a healthy body composition, you must balance the amounts of calories consumed in your diet to the number of calories burned through your normal metabolism and physical activity. The amount of energy expended during physical activity is primarily dependent on the type, frequency, intensity, and duration of the activity being performed.

Activities that activate the greatest amount of muscle mass burn the most calories. At relatively equal intensities, running and cross-country skiing will burn more calories than cycling because the first two activities work both the upper and lower part of the body. The more frequently you train, the harder you train, and longer you train, the more calories you will burn.

There’s No “One Size Fits All” Regimen

There is no aerobic fitness routine that fits everyone’s needs perfectly. It’s very important for each person to balance the types of activities they select based on their skill, physical fitness, interests, goals, and injury risk. For long-term cardiorespiratory health, it’s important to select a variety of activities that you enjoy, will stick with, and that can be incorporated into a weekly routine that will meet the general quantity and quality guidelines needed to gain the health and fitness benefits associated with physical activity.

More Physical Fitness Topics


E-mail worklife@hq.dhs.gov to talk with a Work/Life coordinator at DHS.

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