Get back in the (cardio) zone
Keep yourself in shape and protect your heart while you restart exercise
Raquel Rivas Published: 12/5/2017
Life gets crazy sometimes. We don’t always have time for the gym. If your routine got sidelined by time constraints or an injury, the good news is you can still get back on track.
Your heart muscle and cardio fitness can start diminishing in a short period of inactivity – but they’re also quick to build back up. So, where do you pick up again?
As examples, Dr. Zamora says running, brisk walking, bicycling, playing basketball, dancing, and swimming are moderate aerobic activities. Aerobic activity makes your heart beat more rapidly to meet the demands of the body's movement. Over time, regular aerobic activity makes your heart and cardiovascular system stronger and fitter.
How often do I need to exercise?
Aerobic activity can be spread throughout the week. Exercising at least 3 days a week may help to reduce the risk of injury and avoid excessive fatigue.
“Both moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes. Episodes of this duration are known to improve cardiovascular fitness and some risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Zamora explains.
When you do the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (30 minutes five days a week), the benefits include lower risk of premature death, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
As you increase from 150 minutes a week toward 300 minutes (5 hours) a week, you gain additional benefits: lower risk of colon and breast cancer and prevention of unhealthy weight gain.
“For example, a person who exercises for 300 minutes (5 hours) a week has an even lower risk of heart disease or diabetes than a person who does 150 minutes a week,” Dr. Zamora says.
How hard do I need to exercise?
The guidelines for adults focus on two levels of intensity: moderate-intensity activity and vigorous–intensity activity. To meet the guidelines, you can do either moderate-intensity or vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, or a combination of both.
It takes less time to get the same benefit from vigorous-intensity activities as from moderate-intensity activities. A general rule of thumb is that 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
“Thirty minutes of brisk walking is roughly the same as 15 minutes of running,” says Dr. Zamora.
Here are his examples for moderate intensity exercise:
- Walking briskly, 3 mph or faster, but not race-walking
- Water aerobics
- Bicycling, slower than 10 mph
- Playing tennis (doubles)
- Ballroom dancing
- General gardening
Ready to take it up a notch? Here are examples of vigorous intensity:
- Racewalking, jogging, running
- Swimming laps
- Playing tennis (singles)
- Aerobic dancing
- Bicycling 10 mph or faster
- Jumping rope
- Hiking up the hill or with a heavy backpack
“Think of exercise as medicine,” Dr. Zamora says. “It’s a prescription that has unlimited refills and puts you in charge of your health.”
Carlos Zamora, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists who focuses on helping others avoid heart disease. Prior to moving to Jacksonville, he was assistant professor at the Columbia University Division of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. Dr. Zamora is experienced in diagnosing and treating a variety of cardiac problems including coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, valve problems and congenital heart issues. He has published research on topics ranging from sports cardiology to the effects of energy drinks on the heart.