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Cardiovascular exercise

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Cardiovascular exercise helps keep your heart and lungs strong.
  • Cardiovascular exercise is also called aerobic exercise or 'cardio' for short.
  • Regular cardio is good for your overall health and can help weight loss and reduce stress.
  • Most people can safely do moderate cardio activities.
  • You should start slowly and build up your level of exercise to avoid injuries.

What is cardiovascular exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise, also called aerobic exercise or 'cardio' for short, includes any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing, sweating and overall blood flow. Some examples include:

What are the health benefits of cardiovascular exercise?

Cardio has many health benefits, such as:

  • improves mood and reduces stress
  • strengthens your heart and helps your blood vessels work well
  • strengthens your bones, muscles and joints
  • helps reduce heart disease risk and lower or manage blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • helps manage your weight, which also lowers your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer
  • increases your energy levels
  • helps you sleep better
  • helps lower your risk of dementia later in life

Is cardiovascular exercise right for me and how often should I do it?

Doing regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing. Australian adults are recommended to stay active for most days throughout the week, aiming for between 2 hours and 30 minutes and 5 hours of moderate activity each week, or between 1 hour and 15 minutes and 2 hours and 30 minutes of intense activity.

  • Moderate activity includes exercise that makes your heart rate go up but will not make you feel breathless.
  • Intense activity is vigorous exercise that makes your heart rate go up and will make you breathe heavily.

Doing cardiovascular exercise in several short bursts of physical activity a few times a day can help you reach the Australian Government's recommended 30 to 45 minutes a day, 5 or more days of the week. This can help improve your overall health. There are different guidelines for people in certain age groups, if you are pregnant, have a disability or chronic condition. You can find the information that is relevant to you in the Australian Government'sphysical activity and exercise guidelines.

Any exercise is better than none, and light to moderate exercise is safe for most people. If you have a health condition or haven't been active for a while, speak with your doctor before you start.

Remember to start slowly and gently build up the intensity to reach your recommended level of physical activity.

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How do I start doing cardiovascular exercise in a safe way?

If you are new to exercise or want to build up your physical activity, you should speak with your doctor, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition. Your doctor may refer you to an exercise physiologist who can help design a safe and effective exercise program if you have a medical condition, an injury or disability.

Here are some tips to start doing cardio:

  • Make time to exercise — Schedule it as you would an appointment.
  • Set small goals — Walk around the block or choose to take the stairs, as you start to feel fitter you can increase your effort.
  • Make it fun — Try an exercise that you enjoy such as tai chi, dance or swimming.
  • Listen to your body — Make sure you are safe and know your limits. If you feel any pain or tightness in your chest, shortness of breath or you are dizzy, stop exercising and rest. Get help if you need it.

Chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack. If your chest pain is severe, gets worse or lasts longer than 10 minutes, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

If you have heart disease or another medical condition, monitor your symptoms and always keep your medicines on you.

How do I avoid injury while doing cardiovascular exercise?

It is important to warm up for at least 5 minutes before you exercise to avoid injuries. This allows your heart to gently move into the exercise and prepares your muscles to help avoid any injuries.

You should also cool down for 5 minutes after you exercise as it will gently slow your heart rate back to its regular pace.

How do I stay motivated while doing cardiovascular exercise?

Staying motivated can be challenging when starting something new. It takes around 3 to 4 months to form an exercise habit.

There are many ways to stay motivated. Try some of these tips:

  • Set small and realistic goals.
  • Work out with family or friends.
  • Make exercise fun and choose activities you enjoy.
  • Listen to upbeat music while exercising.
  • Don't overdo it at the start.
  • Tell yourself why you're exercising — simply being aware of why you want to exercise can help motivate you into action.

Resources and support

There are many great resources online to help you to start doing cardiovascular exercise. Here's a few:

Looking for information for sexually and gender-diverse families?

Transhub NSW has resources about sport and physical activity for trans and gender diverse people.

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Last reviewed: March 2024

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