Going to the gym can sometimes feel like a drag, but the health benefits of regular exercise are worth the effort. Cardio exercises are an essential component to help women maintain a healthy lifestyle. But what are cardio workouts? Are some cardio exercises better than others? We’re diving into the best cardio workouts for women, so you know what to do the next time you hit the gym.
What is cardio exercise?
Cardio exercise is any kind of aerobic activity that increases your heart rate for a sustained length of time. Ideally, you want to keep your heart rate moderately high and at a steady rate for at least 30 minutes per day. If you’re new to cardio exercises, start with shorter increments and work your way up.
How do you know if your heart rate is high enough during exercise for it to be considered a cardio workout? Maintaining a moderately elevated heart rate for at least 150 minutes over the course of 7 days is considered a healthy amount of cardio exercise. A moderate heart rate is measured at about 55–70% of your maximum heart rate. High-intensity cardio exercises will increase your heart rate to 70–80% of its maximum.
To calculate your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. This will give you an approximate number to work with for monitoring your heart rate during exercise. There are many wearable technology devices now on the market that track your heart rate during rest and during exercise. These devices make it easy for you to know if you’re working hard enough in your cardio workouts.
Benefits of cardio exercise
When practiced regularly, cardio exercises help you build endurance. Depending on the type of cardio workouts you do, you may also benefit from increased strength, mobility, and balance.
There are many other great health benefits of doing cardio exercises, too:
- Improves your vascular system, increasing blood flow and delivering more oxygen cells to your muscles and organs
- Relieves stress and boosts your mood, releasing feel-good endorphins into your bloodstream
- Burns fat and helps reduce the appearance of cellulite
- Strengthens your muscles and bones, reducing the risk of injury in your day-to-day activities
- Improves sleep, helping you relax and rest more deeply, especially if you suffer from insomnia
Cardio workouts benefit your physical health and can improve your mental health, as well. Recent studies have even shown that regularly doing cardio exercises through physical activity can prevent depression.
Here are some of the most popular cardio workouts for women:
Walking is a wonderful activity you can do when you first add cardio to your workout routine. Go for a brisk walk in the park on the weekend, or give yourself extra time between meetings to walk instead of taking transit. Walking is also a simple activity that you can do to alleviate period cramps. Depending on the terrain, you can burn up to 200 calories just by walking for 30 minutes.
2. Running (or walking) stairs
Running or walking stairs increases the intensity of your cardio workout because you’re lifting your body weight against gravity. You’re also targeting different muscle groups depending on whether you’re running up or running down. Running while on your period is also good for your physical and mental health.
3. Jumping rope
This playground pastime is back! In addition to improving your balance and coordination, jumping rope burns more than 10 calories per minute. You’ll also tone the muscles in your back and arms as you swing the rope.
Cycling is another great low-impact exercise that you can do, even when you’re on your period. Stationary bikes allow you to change the gears to increase or decrease resistance so you can adjust the intensity of your workout. A spin class at your local gym can burn up to 600 calories in a 45-minute session.
The rowing machine may be less common than the treadmill at the gym, but that doesn’t make it any less effective at giving you a full-body cardio workout. A moderate rowing session uses 80% of the muscles in your body and burns up to 300 calories in 30 minutes.
Burpees combine jumping, squats, and planks in one swift movement. A great warm up on their own, burpees can also be combined with an interval training routine to mix up your cardio exercises.
Rollbacks are a form of abdominal exercise that can be done on the mat or on an exercise ball. You can do rollups with free weights in your hands to tone your upper body as well. Try doing 5–10 reps and 2–3 sets of rollbacks as part of your cardio routine.
8. Mountain climber push-ups
Mountain climbers are like running on the spot — but from a push-up position. Alternate bringing the knees into the chest and add 5–10 pushups in between sets. Combine mountain climbers, rollbacks, and burpees for an intense cardio circuit workout!
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a workout that combines short bursts of different bodyweight exercises like burpees, pushups, and mountain climbers with cardio exercises like jump rope, running, or rowing. With HIIT, you want to alternate between high-intensity and low-intensity exercises for several sets.
On top of being the best cardio workouts, many of these exercises are ones that you can do just about anywhere! As with any type of exercise, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new activity or training program if you are pregnant, over 40, or have a health condition or injury. Stay hydrated throughout your workout and wind down with gentle stretching exercises to alleviate stiff muscles.