Many people know that cardiovascular endurance is an important aspect of being fit and healthy, but it is not always clear what exactly cardiovascular endurance entails. Do you need to be able to run a certain distance without stopping? Does it matter if you use the best rowing machine?
(opens in new tab) or the best exercise bike? (opens in new tab)
“Cardiovascular endurance is how well the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems can deliver oxygen to the body during sustained physical activity,” Franklin told Live Science.
The better a person’s cardiovascular endurance, the longer he can sustain aerobic exercise
(opens in new tab) without getting tired or slowing down or stopping.
Good cardiovascular endurance not only means a person can run further or do more laps, but it also provides improvements in physical and mental health. Some of the other benefits include stronger and more efficient heart function, improved respiratory mechanics, a lower resting heart rate, and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Improving your cardiovascular endurance can also improve your ability to metabolize fat during exercise.
How to measure cardiovascular endurance?
So, how do you know how ‘good’ your cardiovascular endurance is?
According to Franklin, “Cardiovascular endurance is measured by looking at maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max
(opens in new tab)) and how it is used during intense training. In other words, the more oxygen you use and how effectively it is used tells us how well the cardiovascular and respiratory systems work together.”
Franklin said that from a practical perspective, cardiovascular endurance can be evaluated in a few different ways.
(Image credit: Getty)
“For beginners, the Rockport Walk Test
(opens in new tab) is a good way to measure cardiovascular endurance. The goal is to run a mile as fast as possible and then immediately take the pulse for 10 seconds,” she said. “The heart rate is then entered into an equation to find one’s VO2 max.”
In this way, the Rockport Walk Test is a good “field test” that a person can perform on their own without going to an exercise lab or using specialized metabolic equipment.
Another viable field test that Franklin recommends to assess cardiovascular endurance is the YMCA 3-minute step test.
“The YMCA 3-Minute Step Test
(opens in new tab) can be easily administered by stepping on a 12-inch step while following a 96 beats per minute cadence for three minutes,” she said. “The heart rate is taken immediately after the test for one minute. The pulse results are the score for the test.”
While both tests can give a reasonable estimate of a person’s aerobic capacity, Franklin said the most accurate test for VO2 max is the treadmill submaximal exercise test, which should be performed by a physician or exercise physiologist in a lab setting.
(Image credit: Getty)
“It involves a 20-minute test of varying intensity, while measuring respiratory rate and heart rate,” Franklin told Live Science. “This test can be expensive and is most commonly used by elite athletes.”
Franklin explained that a person can interpret their results by comparing them to the guidelines or results chart associated with the endurance test you performed.
How to improve cardiovascular endurance?
While beginners would probably like to improve their stamina and cardiovascular endurance quickly, Franklin said starting small is a viable, if not more ideal, way. Overdoing it or doing too much too soon can lead to injury.
“Start the first week with 10-15 minutes of work,” Franklin said. “Then gradually work your way up by increasing the distance, length of time, or incline by adding 10% to 20% each week.”
In other words, increase the duration of a workout incrementally over time in a gradual, but progressive manner. Naturally, listen to your body as you go and pull back when you need more recovery.
Best Types Of Exercise For Cardiovascular Endurance
Any type of exercise that a person can perform without stopping while getting their heart rate in the aerobic zone can be used to increase cardiovascular endurance.
In general, the aerobic training zone
(opens in new tab) is considered 70% to 80% of a person’s maximum heart rate. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm, a cardio workout would ideally put your heart rate in the 126-144 bpm range.
(Image credit: Getty)
Examples of good aerobic exercise include walking, running, walking, swimming, cycling, rowing, stair climbing, skipping rope, inline skating, cross-country skiing, and the cross trainer. Franklin advised that the type of exercise you do isn’t as important as actually doing cardio, so it’s best to pick an activity you enjoy.
“If you don’t enjoy doing it, then you don’t move on and your cardiovascular endurance will suffer. Exercise should be fun and enjoyable,” she said. “You can focus on going through one or several activities to keep it interesting and not mundane.”