Whether you’re an avid yogi, a loyal gym-goer, or a master of the morning run, you’ve likely heard about the importance of cardio. Along with stretching and strength training, cardio is a crucial piece in the puzzle of an optimal fitness routine.
Thankfully, cardio comes in many forms – including some you might not expect. So, if you haven’t yet found a type of cardio you love or you want to explore other options, read on for plenty of ways to get your blood (and those delightful endorphins) pumping.
Best Cardio for a Mood Boost: Running
Let’s start with running, a time-tested form of cardio that requires nothing more than a supportive pair of shoes and a long, winding path (or a treadmill for those cold, rainy days).
What’s to love:
- Running provides remarkable cardiovascular benefits, boosting your oxygen-carrying capacity and blood circulation.
- Running may naturally lengthen your lifespan, with one study showing that runners live around three years longer than non-runners, on average.
- The mental health benefits of running range from an elevated mood and overall feeling of wellbeing to greater focus and memory. Hello, runner’s high!
- Running is a high-impact type of cardio that’s particularly hard on the weight-bearing joints, including the hips, knees, and ankles.
- Runners are prone to injuries like shin splints, runner’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis.
- Feeling low on energy? Peloton’s guided runs are great for motivation.
Best Cardio for Balance and Stamina: Dance and Aerobics
If music gets you moving or you’re seeking a shake-up in your cardio routine, consider dance workouts. These fitness routines have evolved far beyond the aerobics of the ‘70s, and you can now take your pick: Zumba, 305 fitness, barre workouts, Jazzercise – the sky's the limit.
What we love:
- Dance improves stamina, balance, coordination, and flexibility.
- Dance workouts are set to music, which encourages the release of feel-good brain chemicals, like dopamine.
- Dance fitness classes foster a sense of community. It’s always more fun to dance with friends (and those friends can help you stick to your wellness goals).
- With countless free dance fitness videos online, it’s a convenient workout option.
What to consider:
Many dance classes don’t involve continuous cardio – there’s a good amount of start-and-stop.
Dance classes can be pricey. While you can always opt for at-home workouts with free online videos, you may miss out on individualized guidance.
Best Cardio for the Metabolism: HIITHIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a form of interval training exercise. During HIIT workouts, you’ll alternate between periods of high-intensity exercise and shorter periods of low-intensity exercise.
What we love:
- HIIT is undeniably efficient – it takes less time than many other cardio workouts, making it a smart choice for packed schedules.
- The alternating periods of high- and low-intensity exercise boosts endurance, even during relatively short HIIT sessions.
- HIIT has been found to benefit the metabolism more than other forms of exercise, including jogging.
- HIIT can be hard on the heart, especially if you’re predisposed to heart disease. But, this generally isn’t a concern for young, healthy individuals.
- High-intensity exercise can trigger the release of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. However, cortisol levels usually return to normal after a few hours.
Best Motivating Cardio: SpinningSpin classes’ popularity has skyrocketed, and we understand why! Many people find motivation in this intense, fast-paced cardio workout.
What we love:
- Spin classes are almost always set to upbeat music, creating an energizing, uplifting environment.
- Spin instructors are trained to push and encourage you, which can support those of us who struggle to self-motivate during exercise.
- Spin classes create a sense of community – in many studios, spin classes have a party atmosphere!
- Spinning builds strength, improves cardiovascular stamina, and releases a hefty dose of endorphins.
- Since it’s done on a stationary bike, spinning is a low-impact form of cardio.
- Spin classes can be expensive, although signing up for a monthly membership may help lower the per-class rate.
- Spinning neglects the upper body – the focus is primarily on the lower body and endurance.
- Peloton is a great at-home spinning option. Some classes incorporate light dumbbells to add some upper body work and there is a selection of great instructors to match your workout style. (Who else is a Cody fan?)
Best Low-Impact Cardio: SwimmingIf you love the refreshing feeling of moving through cool, blue water, why not turn it into a cardio workout? Swimming is a low-impact, full-body resistance exercise that doctors recommend for people through every stage of life.
What we love:
- As a low-impact activity, swimming is easy on the joints and poses a low risk of injury.
- Swimming challenges and strengthens hard-to-target muscle groups, helping to improve bodily balance and overall muscle tone.
- Swimming conditions the respiratory muscles, which can help increase your lung volume and facilitate full, deep breaths.
- Science shows that swimming boosts brain power and eases anxiety.
- Swimming requires access to a pool, which can make it inconvenient for some.