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Exercise for Beginners - Cardio Exercise

Get Started with Cardio


Updated July 07, 2014

Beginner Cardiovascular
Cardio exercise is important for a healthy heart and weight loss.

How to Begin

  1. Choose an activity that you enjoy. The best exercise for you is the one you'll actually do, not the one you think you should do. Walking is a great place to start since it doesn't require special equipment and you can do it anywhere, but you can try any activity that involves some type of continuous movement like cycling, swimming, running, aerobics, rowing, stairclimbing, etc.
  2. Start with 2 or 3 days of your chosen activity a week with a rest day between workouts.
  3. Begin with a 5-10 minute warm up of light cardio to gradually increase heart rate.
  4. Increase your pace and intensity to slightly harder than comfortable (about a Level 5 or 6 on the Perceived Exertion Scale or you can use Target Heart Rate to monitor intensity) and go as long as you comfortably can. Begin where you ARE, not where you want to be. You may only be able to exercise for a few minutes at a time, but that will change quickly if you're consistent.
  5. End each workout with a cool down of light cardio and stretch the muscles you've worked to relax and keep your muscles flexible.
  6. Each week, increase your workout time by a few minutes until you can work continuously for 30 minutes a session.
  7. Don't worry about distance or pace. For the first few weeks, focus on showing up for your workouts and building time. You have plenty of time to work on your speed and distance.
  8. After 4-6 weeks, change your routine by adding another day of exercise, increasing your pace/intensity, adding a new activity and/or increasing the amount of time you exercise.

Tips for Better Workouts

  • Make sure you have quality shoes for your chosen activity.
  • Start slowly. Doing too much too soon can lead to injuries and misery.
  • Try new activities. Doing the same thing can lead to plateaus, boredom and injuries.
  • Be ready for exercise by feeding your body regularly throughout the day and by staying hydrated.
  • If you're sore or tired, give yourself extra recovery days if needed.

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How Hard Should You Work?

When doing cardio, you should learn how to monitor your intensity to make sure you're working effectively. One way to do this is to make sure you're working within your target heart rate (THR) zone. This target heart rate calculator helps you determine your THR or keep track of how you feel with a perceived exertion chart. Always be aware of how you feel when you exercise. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, stop immediately and rest or call your doctor. If you're not breaking a sweat, speed it up.

Variety will keep your body and your mind challenged, so after the initial conditioning period (about 6 weeks of consistent workouts), vary your workout intensity and time. Each week, do a long, slow workout--45-60 minutes at the lower end of your THR and one short one--20-30 minutes at the higher end of your THR. Your other workouts can be between 30-45 minutes, in the middle of your THR.

More Resources:

Back to Beginner's Corner

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