It's the season of sunshine and happiness -so what better time to head outside and get some fresh air? In today's fast-paced lifestyle, you need to use a vast amount of air to get through your busy day. Poor breathing and cardiovascular health robs you of energy and negatively affects your mental alertness. When you don't partake in regular cardiovascular exercise your rib cage and surrounding muscles get stiff, causing inhalation to become more difficult.

Less elasticity and weak muscles leave stale air in the tissues of your lungs, preventing fresh oxygen from reaching your blood stream. Rapid, shallow breathing - often caused by poor posture and weak or stiff muscles - leads to poor oxygen supply, respiratory disease, sluggishness or even heart disease.

Before You Get Started

Whether you're a complete beginner or an advanced athlete, you want to exercise smart to prevent any injuries or obstacles.

  • Make sure you have quality shoes and clothing for your chosen activity
  • Start slowly. Doing too much too soon can lead to injuries and exhaustion
  • Try new activities. Doing the same exercise can lead to plateaus, boredom and stress injuries. Cross training is beneficial for everyone
  • Be ready for exercise by properly fueling 2-3 hours before and having a light snack following your workout. Practice good nutritional eating habits around and during training
  • Stay well hydrated, especially in hot weather. Depending on the type and duration of activity, your water intake will vary. The more you sweat, the more fluid your body requires. For the advanced, it's crucial to replace lost electrolytes after more than 60 minutes of continuous exercise
  • If you're sore or tired, give yourself extra rest and recovery days
  • Get at least 8 hours of quality sleep. Proper sleep helps your body repair and recover
  • Stay away from smoke and pollution. You probably already know that smoking is bad for, but you should also avoid smoke-filled environments, as well as busy roads with heavy car fumes
  • Be sure to practice deep breathing in order to maximize your lung capacity and take in more air with each breath, whether it's while sitting still or exercising
  • Lastly, keep your workouts enjoyable and fun!

Cardio for the Ultimate Beginner

You should choose your exercise intensity and duration depending on your overall fitness level. If you're recovering from an injury or illness, if you're overweight or you have a low fitness level, you might want to choose a low-impact activity at first such as walking. But even if you've never participated in any type of cardiovascular activity, it's never too late to start.

Choose wisely

  • Choose a type of exercise that you enjoy.
  • The best activity for you is the one you'll actually do, not the one you think you should do. You don't need any fancy equipment.
  • Choose something simple like walking since you can do it anywhere.
  • Alternate between other activities that involve continuous movement such as swimming, biking, running, aerobics, rowing, stair climbing, etc.

Starting out

  • Start by doing your activity two to three times per week, with a rest day between workouts
  • Before every session, do a light cardio warm up of 5-10 minutes to gradually increase your heart rate, and then stretch Increase your pace and intensity to the point where it's slightly harder than you're comfortable with, and continue for as long as you capably can Begin where you are, not where you want to be.
  • You may only be able to exercise for a few minutes at a time, but that will change quickly if you're consistent Finish each session with a cool-down by gradually slowing your pace to prevent lactic acid buildup, and stretch the muscles you've worked to increase flexibility

Ramping up

  • Each week, increase your workout time by a few minutes until you can work continuously for 30 minutes a session
  • Don't worry about distance or pace. For the first few weeks, focus on showing up for your workouts and building time. You have plenty of time to work on your speed and distance
  • After four to six weeks, change your routine by adding another day of exercise, increasing your intensity, adding a new activity or increasing the amount of time you exercise

From Beginner to Cardio Warrior!

  • As your fitness level increases, you can and should crank up the intensity and the duration of your activity. Variety will keep your body and your mind challenged.
  • After your initial conditioning period, which should be about six weeks of consistent workouts, vary your workout intensity and time.
  • Each week, do a long slow workout for 45-60 minutes at lower intensity, and a short one for 20-30 minutes at higher intensity.
  • Your other workouts can be between 30-45 minutes, at medium intensity.

The following are some tips to increase your lung and heart capacity as you progress:

  • Practice breathing exercises during everyday activities.
  • Breathe in for 2-20 seconds, breathe out for 10-20 seconds, and slowly increase the rate.
  • Soon you'll find yourself breathing out for 45 seconds to two minutes if you practice enough! Increase your intensity.
  • At high-intensity, your sessions become shorter, generally 30 minutes or less.
  • You can do many of the same exercises you do for regular cardio, except kick up your intensity.
  • Generally, it's extremely difficult to hold a conversation while performing a high-intensity workout

Get wet

  • Take your exercise routine to the water.
  • Submerge yourself up to your neck, and do your exercises while in the water.
  • Due to the blood shifting into your chest cavity and the compression on your body, you'll have to take shorter, quicker breaths.
  • Your respiratory system will become more efficient, increasing your lung capacity Swimming is the best sport to improve on your cardiovascular fitness.
  • At their peak, swimmers' lungs will use oxygen three times more efficiently than an average person

Uphill challenge

  • Add hills.
  • Hill walking or running is a very effective way to tone your legs, challenge your cardiovascular system and add some interesting scenery to your workout routine.
  • You'll be breathing harder, too, thus increasing your lung capacity and strengthening your heart Train at higher altitudes.
  • The air in high-altitude areas has less oxygen in it, which will force your lungs to work harder and become more efficient.
  • But be careful, as altitude sickness is a possibility until your body adjusts; this will require weeks to a couple of months

Interval training

Do high-intensity interval training. This is a variable intensity session where you alternate between bursts of 100% output followed by active rest periods where you drop to about 50% output

Higher intensity exercise accelerates your heart rate, causing you to breath in more oxygen. It also speeds up your resting metabolic rate in the 24 hours following the high-intensity exercise. If you're fit, you may sprint for 30 seconds and then jog for 15 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 12 to 15 minutes, followed by a cool-down period of light exercise