Cardio Workouts: What You Should Know

Thursday, June 14, 2007 - 5:44pm

By Michele Silence, MA

A good cardio workout makes you breathe faster, sweat more, and demands your heart work harder. It is great for strengthening the heart muscle and protecting it from heart disease and stroke, which account for more deaths in the United States than almost all other causes combined. Before you jump on the cardio bandwagon, however, there are some things that you need to familiarize yourself with to maximize your effort and increase the benefits.

What Is cardio?

An activity is considered cardio or aerobic if it uses the large muscles in the body (legs, rear) continuously. Aerobic exercise uses stored fat as a source of fuel. That means when you exercise aerobically, the calories burned come from fat stores instead of the carbohydrates circulating through your system--an important fact if you are trying to lose weight. Examples of cardio exercises include the following:

  • Group exercise classes
  • Cycling
  • Walking briskly
  • Running
  • Skating
  • Hiking
  • Dancing (if done non-stop).

What is a working heart rate?

A working heart rate is the level at which you want your heart to beat to ensure you are working at an aerobic pace. There are a number of ways to take your heart rate and see how hard you are working. Generally speaking, you want to work at a rate that is 60-80% of your maximal heart rate. Maximal heart rate per minute is found by subtracting your age from 220. Your working heart rate range would be that number multiplied by .60 and .80. When just starting out, aim for the low end of this range. As you advance, you will naturally put out more effort to get the heart rate at the same rate. After you've been exercising for some time, try to work at the high end of your target heart rate for better results.

Finding target heart rates and the Karvonean Method

There are various methods of taking your heart rate. Some are very general like the talk test (if you cannot talk, you are working too hard), perceived exertion (how hard you feel you are working on a scale of 0-10), and wall charts which give broad averages for each age. For a more specific calculation, try the Karvonean method.

Take your pulse in the morning, before any activity at all. Use your finger (not thumb, which has its own pulse) and place it on the artery in your wrist under your watch or on your neck on the carotid artery. Both work well. Count every single beat for a full minute. This is your resting heart rate. Follow the calculation below for a very precise number based on your own individual heart rate:


Maximal Heart Rate 220

Subtract Age -


Subtract Resting Heart Rate

(taken for 1 minute in morning) -


Multiply by .60 for low end x .60 / .80

of target zone, .80 for top end _____________


Add back resting heart rate +

Used in above _____________


Target heart rate for 1 minute

(divide by 6 for a 10 second count)


What are the benefits of aerobic exercise?

Aerobic exercise gives you a multitude of rewards. There's fat loss; less huffing and puffing doing ordinary day-to-day tasks; and lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and stress. Aerobic exercise boosts mood by releasing endorphins to make you "feel good" naturally. Working your heart gives you more energy for other things in life and is a great fat burner. With all these benefits and many more, it's time to get off the couch and on your feet. You won't regret it.