You can certainly feel like your heart is beating out of your chest during a session, but are you doing cardio exercise? We know it’s important to aim for a range of cardio, strength and flexibility exercises in an average week, but sometimes it’s hard to know which sports and activities fall into which category.

About 50 million Americans are into running, jogging, or running, and if you’re looking to improve your cardio, we have good news: running is a fantastic form of cardio exercise. Plus, it’s one of the best cardio exercises you can do to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, improve your quality of sleep, and boost your cognitive function.

In addition to the many benefits of running (opens in a new tab)it’s also a relatively inexpensive way to get your daily dose of exercise. Although you can definitely invest in one of the best treadmills (opens in a new tab) so you can train in the comfort of your own home, as long as you have a good pair of sneakers, you can lace up and run anytime, anywhere.

What is cardio exercise?

“What sets cardio apart from other forms of exercise is its reliance on your body’s ability to use oxygen during a workout,” says strength coach and clinical physiology lecturer Jack McNamara. some exercice. “This use of oxygen, otherwise known as aerobic metabolism, helps our bodies extract energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from amino acids, carbohydrates and fatty acids to fuel our muscles, usually for more prolonged activities, which is why you often hear cardio referred to as aerobic exercise – that is, with oxygen.

“The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as ‘any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be sustained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.’ So technically all kinds of physical activity count. such as aerobic exercise at any intensity: biking, dancing, hiking, swimming, and even walking.”

Jack McNamara (opens in a new tab) is a highly experienced strength coach and lecturer in clinical exercise physiology. Since beginning his career in 2005, McNamara has coached numerous athletes, worked as a clinical exercise physiologist, and taught university-level exercise science courses. His vast expertise was recognized last year when he became the first person to be awarded Master Trainer (Europe) and Chartered Practitioner (UK) status.

Most experts agree that to get the most out of cardio you should aim to move at a moderate or higher intensity – you can gauge whether or not you’ve reached a “moderate” intensity by being able to talk but not to sing while you practice.

The benefits of cardio exercise include improving heart health, preventing or managing cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, and reducing symptoms of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Plus, the runner’s high is hard to beat!

A man in a blue shirt walks past store shutters covered in graffiti

(Image credit: Getty)

Is running cardio?

Yes, running definitely counts as cardio exercise.

“Not only does running use large muscle groups continuously and rhythmically, it also makes our heart work harder and forces us to use more oxygen to sustain it,” says McNamara.

“Unless you’re working at very high intensities, like sprinting, running will generally tax our heart and lungs more, or at least as much, as it will tax our muscles – at least at the start of a race!”

How to improve your cardio fitness

Working on your technique is one of the best ways to make you work harder and safer during a race.

“For most of us, running is something we’ve ‘done’ since we were kids, so we don’t actively pay attention to our posture, technique, or running pace,” explains McNamara.

“By shortening our stride and increasing our cadence – the total number of steps taken each minute – we can benefit not only from better cardiovascular fitness, but also from a reduced risk of injury and more efficient running technique. leading to better performance.”

Three women jogging

(Image credit: Getty)

Sprint and anaerobic exercise

You can add short and fast exercises such as sprints to do anaerobic exercises (opens in a new tab).

“Anaerobic exercise is physical activity that causes the body to break down glucose into energy without oxygen,” McNamara says. “It usually happens in the body when the demand for oxygen exceeds the supply. Usually these activities are of short duration with high intensity.”

This can be a great way to work out your running to strengthen your bones, as well as increase your lactate threshold (allowing you to work harder for longer) and improve your overall power.

To increase the intensity of your workouts, McNamara recommends:

  • Increase the number of sprint intervals
  • Shorter recovery/active rest periods
  • Increase the duration of the hard part of your intervals
  • Change your terrain or add slopes
  • Increase your speed