By James Goodwin, PTA, CSCS
Have you ever wondered whether to walk/run, swim, bike, or use the elliptical or how intense your cardio workouts should be to improve your cardiovascular adaptation? If your goal is to reduce inflammation, increase endurance/stamina and stay “in the game” for long periods of time then look no further!
Choosing the method for cardiovascular adaptation for each individual is both a science and an art. First off, let’s list each mode of exercise from least to greatest load on the joints: swimming, walking, biking, elliptical, jogging/running. It’s not that one is better than the other, but which one is appropriate for you depends on your current level of health and fitness.
Now let’s visit how intense your cardio workouts should be. Again, if your goal is to decrease inflammation, increase endurance/stamina, and enjoy your workouts then you want to work at or below your aerobic threshold for most days. Here is a simple formula to calculate your fat burning level—the highest heart rate (in beats per minute, or BPM) at which you want to work:
Aerobic Threshold = 180 BPM – (age) = ?
- subtract 10 from ? if you are currently on medication or injured
- subtract 5 more if you have NOT worked out in 2 years
- add 5 to ? if you have been working out steadily for 2 years
Take me for example: 180 – 32 = 148
(Adjustments: I don’t take any medications nor am I currently injured but I haven’t worked out in 2 years so I subtract 5 from 148 which equals 143 BPM)
Therefore, my aerobic threshold/highest heart rate that I need to stay at or below is 143 bpm. This would be my goal for most cardio workouts throughout the week in order to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system without overloading my body. This is a departure from the target heart rate we’ve used over the years. More intense workouts (causing excessive inflammation) of >70-75% of your maximum heart rate (220-your age for healthy individuals) should be performed only 1-2 times per week, whereas workouts at aerobic threshold or fat burning zone (formula provided) should be performed for the remainder of week or 4-5 times per week depending on the individual’s workout frequency. This will help reduce chronic inflammation and reduce risk of overuse injuries. Give this a try and let us know how you feel!