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What Type of Cardio is Right for You?

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!
What to consider:
  • 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. 
Gradually and mindfully adding running to your fitness routine can lower your risk of injuries. Start by walking, then slowly increase your speed and distance, paying close attention to how your body feels during and after each run. Investing in high-quality, supportive running shoes can also go a long way in safeguarding your joints while you make the most of each stride. 

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: HIIT

HIIT (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. 
What to consider:
  • 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: Spinning

Spin 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. 
What to consider:

  • 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: Swimming

If 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
What to consider:
  • Swimming requires access to a pool, which can make it inconvenient for some. 

Your Cardio Reset: Refreshing Your Fitness Routine

Cardio fosters physical fitness, mental wellbeing, and even better quality sleep. Thankfully, you don’t have to settle for a rigid cardio routine to reap these benefits. Today, you can weigh the benefits and drawbacks to find a type of cardio that seamlessly slots into your fitness routine. If you’re adding cardio to your routine for the first time, try approaching this transition as an exploration. Start gradually, listen to your body, and be present in each workout. With time, you’re sure to find a fitness routine that leaves you fulfilled.