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Are You Doing Enough Cardiorespiratory Exercise?

There are many types of cardiorespiratory exercise options, including running, biking, hiking, group aerobics and climbing stairs. Everyone has a preference—often I speak with people who say they only like to use the elliptical machine or they only use the Stairmaster. What everyone tends to have in common is uncertainty: Are they getting enough exercise? Are they working hard enough when they do exercise? Why bother if they can’t see their body change?

Why Do I Need Cardio at All?

Cardiorespiratory exercise is a gift for your heart. Regular cardio allows your heart to become more effective and efficient, improving your health. It is also a great way to burn calories.

How Much Cardio Does a Person Need?

For general health, you should get five to seven days of moderate cardio, totaling 30 minutes per day. Moderate is defined as difficult enough that your heart and respiratory rates increase, but you are not exhausted or completely out of breath.

For an improvement in your fitness level, you should get three to five days a week of more intense cardio. Spend 20 to 60 minutes doing cardio on these days.

How Do I Know if I Am Working Out Hard Enough?

The easiest way to monitor how hard you are working is by using heart rate zones. When you are born, your heart is capable of beating 220 beats every minute. Each year, this number goes down approximately one beat. So if you are 40 years old, your heart has the capacity, at its maximum, to beat around 180 beats every minute.

The answer to how hard your heart is working can be found by using different percentages of your maximum heart rate. When you are doing your cardio, you should be exerting yourself at a minimum of 65% of your heart rate’s capacity and a maximum of 90% of your heart rate’s capacity.

Example, based on a 40 year old person

To find your heart rate maximum, subtract your age from 220. (220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute, your approximate heart rate maximum)

To find the minimum beats per minute you should be working at, multiply your heart rate max by 60%. (180 x .65 = 117 beats per minute)

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To find the maximum beats per minute you should be working at, multiply your heart rate max by 90%. (180 x .90 = 162 beats per minute)

After you figure out your own heart rate zones, write them down and take them with you when you exercise. Use the numbers to keep an eye on your heart rate and know how hard you are working.

Heart rate zone training generally is broken down into three zones:

Zone 1 – 65 – 75% of heart rate max

Zone 1 is considered a good zone to start in and is also your recovery zone. Exercising in zone 1 will improve your blood’s ability to use oxygen. Increasing oxygen to cells helps them improve their function and lets your heart get stronger.

Zone 2 – 80 – 85% of heart rate max

Zone 2 is near your anaerobic threshold. This is where your body can’t use its normal oxygen intake to produce enough energy for your muscles. This is also where your body will start to adapt to different levels of exercise.

Zone 3 – 86 – 90% of heart rate max

Zone 3 is a high-intensity workout. Your body becomes overloaded in this zone and can’t sustain itself for very long at this level. If you exercise only in zones 1 and 2, your body will hit a plateau. Overloading it in zone 3 will beat that plateau by increasing your metabolism and fitness level. These benefits are greatly appealing, but they do not mean you should exercise in zone 3 for long lengths of time. Staying here for too long can cause overtraining.

When you are exercising, always keep an eye on your heart rate. You can either purchase a heart rate monitor or use the built-in monitors that are on most cardio equipment. To increase your heart’s health and function, start exercising in zone one. As you become more comfortable in zone 1, add in some time in zone 2. When you feel you are ready, work out in all three zones, going in and out of each.

Example One, Cardio Advanced Beginner

  1. Warm up in zone 1 for ten minutes.
  2. Increase your heart rate into zone 2 for three minutes.
  3. Decrease to zone 1 for ten minutes.
  4. Repeat the cycle. Add more time in zone 2 as your comfort increases.
  5. Example Two, Familiar with Cardio

  1. Vary your intervals.
  2. Warm up in zone 1 for ten minutes.
  3. Increase your heart rate into zone 2 for four minutes.
  4. Increase to zone 3 for one minute.
  5. Decrease to zone 2 for four minutes.
  6. Exercise in zone 1 for 10 minutes.
  7. Increase to zone 2 for six minutes.
  8. Increase to zone 3 for one minute.
  9. Decrease to zone 2 for six minutes.
  10. Recover in zone 1 for 10 minutes.
  11. Repeat cycles, varying lengths as you would like.

The more you use heart rate zone training, the more efficient your heart will become. When you see your heart rate start to go up and down more quickly and efficiently, you will know that your heart is becoming more efficient.

Heart rate zone training also is a fantastic way to increase your endurance. By building in zone 1 recovery time, your body is able to rest and replenish itself. You will get your breath back and start to feel better. This allows you to then exercise for longer periods of time, pushing yourself to new fitness levels.

If a heart rate monitor is unavailable, use a “talk test.” If you are easily able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising, your heart rate is in a lower range. If you can talk, but are having some trouble speaking, you are in a moderate heart rate range. If you are barely able to talk, your heart rate is near its maximum.

Information is based on guidelines put forth by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Stacey Rosenberg is a personal trainer and group exercise instructor at Boston Sports Club in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Are You Doing Enough Cardiorespiratory Exercise?

Stacey Rosenberg

APA Reference
Rosenberg, S. (2018). Are You Doing Enough Cardiorespiratory Exercise?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.