One of the least appealing words in fitness might be cardio. Cardio is defined simply as any exercise that causes a temporary increase in heart rate. But for many, the word cardio conjures up images of drudgery, boredom and unpleasant exercise machines. Cardio tends to be something we do as a means to an end rather than a means to fulfillment, enjoyment, or purpose. Cardio is the 30 minutes of something you do to see how many calories you can burn before or after you lift weights. But cardio doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, cardio can happen in surprising and even enjoyable ways.
Recent studies scientifically confirm what we’ve suspected (and hoped) for years — that cardio doesn’t have to be 20-plus minutes of sustained rhythmic activity to be effective. It can be just as effective in several short 1–2 minute bursts as it is in an hour-long continuous exercise class. Furthermore, if cardio is built into your daily life, odds are you’ll stick with it versus some chore you despise. In short, if you don’t like doing ‘cardio’ the traditional way, then you should stop. Instead, look for these five unexpected ways to get your cardio in.
1. Live Like A European
Commute with your body. One thing you notice pretty quickly when you visit Europe is the stark contrast to the States when it comes to the prevalence of obese and overweight people. Why is that? Of course, it starts with a diet that consists largely of smaller quantities of real, raw, and whole foods as opposed to the packaged and processed foods consumed en masse here.
But beyond diet, another major distinction is that many Europeans tend to move their bodies as their primary source of transportation. You can’t go anywhere in Scandinavia without seeing sidewalks full of people biking and walking everywhere. In the U.S, it’s no surprise that cities like Boston, Boulder and Seattle have some of the highest percentage of walking and biking commuters and are also among the 20 lowest cities in terms of obesity.
2. Choose Active Work Or Volunteer Activities
Your desk job might literally be killing you as sitting is directly correlated to increased mortality. Cardio isn’t just something you should do; it’s something you must do if you intend to live a long and healthy life. One sure fire way to get your cardio in is to find a career or consistent volunteer activity steeped in physicality. But you needn’t be a bricklayer or construction worker to get your cardio on. Service workers like restaurant servers, hairstylists and, of course, fitness professionals also get plenty of “cardio” in a given day.
But beyond the obvious physical jobs, anything that requires hours of standing will translate into steps and an elevated heart rate. Retail jobs, volunteering at the Y, finding a landscaping job, many medical professions, or even a job in outside sales will get you that cardio you need. Of course, not everyone can have a physically oriented job. But if your vocation is sedentary, walking or biking to work is a great way to start your day and of course taking the stairs helps to get that cardio in as well.
3. Practice A Martial Art
Participating in a martial art isn’t just a way to hone a valuable skill and develop a transcendent art form, it’s also a hell of a workout. Anyone who’s ever done much sparring can tell you that one round of sparring can feel like an hour-long workout. Exercise isn’t the only thing that elevates your heart rate, either — fear, adrenaline, and resistance also create the same physiological result. Learning a martial art will teach you to face that fear and learn a lot about yourself in the process. It’s also a pretty decent way to get your cardio in.
4. Go Blue Collar
Some people will tell you that don’t know a workout until you’ve chopped wood for an hour, shoveled snow from a driveway, planted an orchard or built a fence in your backyard. Living off the land won’t just help you get your cardio in but will also help you feel a gratifying sense of building something. Throwing bales of hay and tilling your garden won’t just elevate your heart rate, but it will also build a ton of practical strength.
5. Sneak It In
If you dread hitting that elliptical machine for 30 minutes or if a cardio class is not your jam, try sneaky intervals instead. During your next weight lifting session, every time you finish a set, try a minute of intense anaerobic training: jumping rope, hopping on the rower or sprinting on the treadmill. If you are doing 15 sets in the weight room with 15 minutes of sprints, you’ll not only get your resistance training in, you’ll have your cardio done without having to add another 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at the end.