Swimming is a low-impact cardio activity that may ease joint pain. Zena Holloway/Getty Images
- Some of the best types of cardio exercise are running, cycling, swimming, walking, jumping rope, and HIIT.
- Walking is the easiest cardio activity to incorporate into your life and may help boost your immune system.
- For higher-intensity exercise, try activities like running or cycling to help with weight loss and reduce stress.
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Common forms of cardio include running, cycling, swimming, and walking. Each type has a ton of benefits that include weight loss, improved health, and stress reduction.
Here are some of the best types of cardio and the health benefits for each of them.
Running is one of the most popular forms of cardio exercises. Some people might opt to jog instead of run. Both activities are similar, the main difference between the two is that running is done at a faster rate.
People start running for different reasons, including weight loss, fitness maintenance, or just for fun. If you are new to running starting out with a jog or a brisk walk will prevent you from overexerting yourself too quickly.
Important: Be sure to stretch out your muscles before you run and cool down with light stretches afterward to prevent straining your muscles.
A large 2014 study found that running for even 5 or 10 minutes a day at slow speeds reduces the risks of death and cardiovascular diseases.
Running regularly has the following health benefits:
- Strengthens your muscles, specifically your calves and glutes
- Helps you to maintain a healthy weight
- Lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol levels
When you think about cycling, you may flashback to cycling for leisure as a child. However, it’s a great form of exercise that can get your heart pumping and build muscle without putting too much stress on your joints.
“Cycling is a great low-impact way to get an aerobic workout,” says Alexis Colvin, MD, an Orthopedic Sports Medicine Surgeon at Mount Sinai. “Cycling also helps to build leg muscles such as gluteal, hamstring, and calf muscles.”
If you are thinking about taking up cycling, getting a bicycle for shorter commutes might be a good idea. For instance, if you work not too far from home, you can cycle to work instead of driving or taking the bus.
General advice: If you don’t own a bicycle you could also sign up for spin classes at your local gym or health club – as stationary cycling still has many of the same health benefits.
Cycling is a low-impact exercise, which makes it ideal for people of all ages. Some benefits of cycling you might enjoy include:
- Increases bone density
- Eases joint pain and stiffness
- Decreases stress levels
Swimming is another low-impact cardio exercise, which means that you can do it regularly without feeling too much strain. In fact, research shows that people find it easier to exercise for longer in the water than on land, without increased effort.
“Swimming is a great way to get a low-impact, complete body workout. You are working your upper body, core, and lower body,” says Colvin.
It’s a great idea to warm up with a bit of paddling before engaging in longer, more intense strokes when you swim. If you have a neck or shoulder injury, you should take care when swimming laps, to avoid worsening your injury.
Important: If you don’t know how to swim, you might need a professional instructor to teach you at a local gym or recreation center. And if you are swimming outdoors, don’t forget to apply some sunscreen.
Swimming has many health benefits, especially because it works out your whole body. Some benefits of swimming you might enjoy include:
- Tones the muscles in your whole body
- Builds strength
- Helps to alleviate stress
Walking is the easiest cardio activity to start and incorporate into your daily life. You can walk to work, your favorite coffee shop, or just around your block during lunchtime instead of sitting at your desk. Walking doesn’t require any special skill, only perhaps a pair of comfortable shoes.
Research has found that walking reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases from occurring by 31% and cuts down the risk of death by 32%. These benefits are equally apparent in both men and women.
Some benefits you might experience if you walk regularly include:
- Helps to boost your immune system
- Can help to ease joint pain
- Reduces body fat
- Increases muscle strength
- Reduces the risk of developing heart disease
Though jumping rope might be a popular kid’s game, it’s also a great exercise option for people who are trying to keep fit, maintain their weight, or lose weight.
Jumping rope doesn’t require any special skills – only a jump rope, ample space, and comfortable shoes. If you want to make it a little more challenging you can opt for weighted jump ropes.
Some health benefits of jumping rope include:
- Improves your coordination
- Increases your agility
- Reduces stress
HIIT is an acronym for high-intensity interval training. It is also known as sprint interval training (SIT) or high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE). HIIT exercises are made up of a series of short or long intense exercises, followed by a low-intensity exercise or rest.
Some common HIIT exercises you can do include star jumps, squat jumps, reverse crunches, and burpees. The time frame for intense exercises usually ranges from less than 45 seconds to 2 or 4 minutes.
HIIT exercises can provide you with the following health benefits:
- Helps burn calories quickly
- Strengthens your muscles
- Lowers your blood pressure
Cardio is a great way to stay healthy and fit. HIIT, running, cycling, swimming, walking and jumping rope are just some examples of cardio exercises you can do.
Other types of cardio exercises include dancing, boxing, rowing, and jumping jacks. You shouldn’t worry too much about what the best kind of cardio to do is – as long as you find something you like and stick to it.
“There’s no single ‘best’ type of cardio,” Colvin says. “I typically recommend cardio activities to my patients depending on what they have access to if they have any lower body problems, such as knee arthritis that could get aggravated with higher-impact activities, and what activities they enjoy and would be likely to stick with.”
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