Does the popular Instagram hashtag #cardioishardio resonate with you? Unless you’re a long-distance runner, many of us struggle with putting in long sessions of cardiovascular and aerobic activity. It can feel monotonous and boring at times, but we trudge through because we know that getting our heart rate up helps to strengthen the heart and blood vessels and improves oxygen flow. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a dull task to check off our list – there are ways to make cardio fun and multifunctional! This article will provide you with 5 fun ways to get your exercise in with variety to keep your body and mind challenged.
Why Does Cardio Matter?
Aside from helping to maintain a healthy weight and prevent issues like diabetes, aerobic exercise will also protect you from heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to the CDC:
1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. each year is caused by heart disease
Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack
Government recommendations for adults are to get at least 2.5 hours each week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, and these sessions need to be at least 10 minutes at a time. “Moderate intensity” is usually explained by fitness experts as being short of breath, but still being able to carry a conversation, or a 12-14 on a scale of 1-20.
This means that you don’t necessarily have to run for 30-45 minutes at a time. You can break up your cardio into short session and even high-intensity bursts to reap the same benefits.
5 Fun Ways to Tune-Up Your Ticker
So, what do you do if you hate to run or get on an elliptical for 30 minutes at a time? Here are some fun ways to boost your heart rate and stay active. Even better, some of these can be done in only 15-20 minutes at high intensity, which will also benefit your waistline. Try a variety of these options to mix up the length of time you workout and modalities to keep your heart, brain, and muscles challenged.
Speed Ladder Drills - Practicing agility drills is not only useful, but fun! Focusing on footwork keeps your mind busy, as opposed to just watching the time pass, like on a treadmill. Not only that, but it’s good for your brain, coordination, and balance. These drills drive your heart rate up quickly, even when you’re simply working on the basics. Use a long 20-rung ladder for less starts and stops and the most cardio benefit. Start with some of these popular agility exercises:
High Knees (2 feet in each box)
In, in, out, out
Lateral in, in, out, out
Jump Rope – Unless you’re into CrossFit, it’s possible you haven’t picked up a jump rope since you were a kid. Now is the time to give it another go! Jumping rope is great because you can do it anywhere. Start by jumping for 20-30 seconds, followed by 20-30 seconds rest, then repeat for 10 minutes. As your endurance and skill builds, jump for longer periods of time without increasing your rest time. Play around with alternating feet, criss-crossing, and double-unders to keep it enjoyable and challenging.
Swimming - This is a great one for anyone with joint pain, since jumping and running can be hard on the knees, ankles and hips. Plus, it’s great for building lung capacity. Jump into a lap pool and freestyle for as many laps as you can without stopping. Take a few minutes to rest, then go again until you need another break. Work up to 30 minutes. If you can’t freestyle, do any style that you prefer and you’ll still reap the benefits.
Hill or Stair Sprints – This is another form of exercise that can be done quickly and almost anywhere. If you want to get outdoors, head to a local football field or track and use the bleacher stairs. Or, head to a local trail or park with a steep incline (even a steep street will work if you don’t have a park nearby). If you’re at home or in an apartment building, any stairway will do. Depending on the length of the stairs/hill, run (or walk) up and down as fast as you can about twice, then pause and rest for 30-60 seconds (if you’re at home with a short staircase, this could be as many as 5-6 times). Repeat 5 times. Then run up once, rest for 10-20 seconds, and repeat another 5 times.
Kettlebells – Kettlebell exercises are an excellent option for short cardio bursts because you can also build muscle and improve grip strength at the same time. Most kettlebell exercises will also increase core stability. If you’re new to kettlebells, start with kettlebell swings. Go for 30 seconds, then rest 30 seconds, and repeat 5-10 times. If you’ve used them before or are familiar with other strength training exercises, try this circuit:
1. 20 Kettlebell Swings
2. 100 Meters Farmer’s Carry
3. 15 Goblet Squats
4. 15 Snatches
Have you found other forms of aerobic exercise that you like to do? Share your favorites in the comments below!
Certified Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach