The 1 Important Element Every Cardio Workout Needs

Photographer: Kathryna HancockRestrictions: Editorial and internal use only. No advertising, no print
POPSUGAR Photography | Kathryna Hancock
POPSUGAR Photography | Kathryna Hancock

We all know that we need to be moving more in an effort to combat our sedentary, screen-addicted lifestyles, but is a leisurely walk enough to consider yourself active? Well, it depends. What you need is cardio, otherwise known as cardiovascular exercise, or any type of physical activity that gets your heart pumping while large areas of your muscles are utilized.

Running, hiking, biking, and playing basketball are all great examples, but there are other workouts that fall into the cardio category. The one major thing in that definition you need to keep in mind is that in order to get all the benefits that cardio gives your body (like more energy and better brain function), you need to get that heart pumping.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that your target heart rate during exercise be between 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate in order for it to be considered an activity with moderate intensity. Walking around the mall leisurely for two hours will not increase your heart rate enough to substantially count as exercise, but dancing for 30 minutes or going on the elliptical will.

Because cardio physically challenges your body to perform vigorously, it can ultimately improve the abilities of your heart and lungs. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week for optimal health. High-impact cardio activities (such as running) can be just as effective as low-impact ones (like hiking), as long as the exercise challenges and invigorates your body.

Countless studies have found that the benefits of cardio are exponential for both the mind and body. In fact, along with combating weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the risk for heart problems, physical activity can ease depression and anxiety. It's important to note that implementing strength training exercises along with cardio can maximize the benefits to the body by strengthening muscles.