The summer is upon us. It’s time to take advantage of the good (hopefully) weather and get outdoors for some fresh air and exercise. The summer is a great time of year for encouraging people to exercise. Whether you’re starting out with a new goal, getting back into things after a break or just looking to add some cardio to an existing training programme, the long summer evenings can often be the motivation we need to get started.
There’s a plethora of exercises that we can complete outdoors. In this blog I’ve highlighted my 5 favourite cardiovascular exercises. As always, see your doctor and a fitness professional if you are starting out on an exercise routine. The exercises in this blog are all really simple but make sure you set your targets relevant to your level of fitness so that your goals are achievable and your motivation is maintained!
Here are the exercises:
Running is probably the best cardiovascular exercise there is. It’s great for maintaining a healthy weight, it can help to build strong bones and of course it can improve our cardiovascular fitness.
If you’re just starting out then make sure to set a realistic target (couch to 5k is a popular starting point for beginners). Start with a few 20 minute runs and gradually build up to 40 minute runs three times a week. You might find that you’re mixing jogging and walking at the beginning and that’s fine. Over time try to reduce the walking so you are running the whole time.
For more experienced runners, set your distance and time target from the beginning and, with the help of a stopwatch, look to improve your times and (depending on your goal) increase the distance from week to week.
Signing up for an organised run is a great way to motivate yourself to train towards a specific target, plus the organised events are often in aid of certain charities so you’ll be supporting a good cause as well as improving your fitness. A great annual charity run in Dublin is the Calcutta Run in aid of the Peter McVerry Trust and GOAL (http://www.calcuttarun.com/).
2) High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If you want to crank things up a bit, if you want to push yourself a bit harder, then High Intensity Interval Training could be for you. HIIT involves short bursts of high intensity, gut busting cardio exercise, followed by periods of lighter intensity or rest periods.
The most common type of exercise that utilises HIIT is running however there are many other forms of exercise that can use this technique such as weight training, cycling, rowing etc.
Using running as an example, here’s a simple 20 minute HIIT workout that I’ve used in the past:
- Warm up: 5 minutes of running at a moderate pace
- HIIT: 10 minutes of high intensity exercise. This involves 40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 20 seconds of light jogging. Repeat this 10 times
- Cool down: 5 minutes of running at a moderate pace
A HIIT workout is usually shorter than a regular cardio session and shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes making it a time efficient form of exercise. These high intensity workouts have been shown to provide increased athletic capacity and conditioning as well as improved fat burning when compared to standard cardiovascular exercise.
While not as demanding as running or HIIT, hiking can still provide a quality workout, especially if you challenge yourself with a long distance hike that includes hills or mountainous terrain. Get yourself some good quality hiking boots with proper grip and ankle support. Be sure to break them in sufficiently prior to embarking on your first serious trek or be prepared for some blister and band-aid action.
As well as being a good cardio activity, hiking in the countryside and inhaling the fresh air is a great stress and anxiety reliever and can really help improve your mood.
This is the only exercise on my list where you’ll need a piece of equipment i.e. a bicycle. It doesn’t have to be a fancy bike but it should be comfortable and it should be the right size for your height. If you’re living and working in Ireland, then you really should take advantage of the Cycle to Work scheme if you haven’t already.
Cycling can improve cardiovascular fitness, increase muscle strength and flexibility, improve posture and coordination as well as numerous other benefits. Go to your local park for a few circuits, join a cycling club if there’s one close by or cycle to work if that’s an option. The bottom line is, get on your bike!
Needless to say this is the least strenuous of all the cardiovascular exercises I’ve mentioned in this blog but it’s perhaps the most important. It doesn’t matter your age or your fitness level, you probably have to walk a certain amount every day of your life. Why not try to increase that amount gradually over time so that your weekly total starts to register as legitimate cardio exercise? Aim for at least 30 minutes per day at a decent pace and you can reduce your risk of heart disease, improve your blood pressure, lower the risk of obesity and enhance your mental wellbeing. Significant benefits for such a simple exercise.
There’s plenty of other forms of exercise to consider and whatever form of exercise works for you is all that matters. Start slowly and look to improve over time. Combine your exercise with a well-balanced diet to reap the most rewards. Set your own personal targets and don’t worry what someone else is doing. The summer is here so don’t put it off any longer, get outdoors and make the most of it!