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Aerobic exercise, more commonly known as “cardio,” is physical exercise that uses oxygen to meet energy demands created during activity. Aerobic exercise is very important for heart health and decreasing risk of diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It is also an important part of any training regimen to increase endurance, strength and performance in sports. Below are a few tips on increasing aerobic endurance.


Amount of exercise

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise, or 20 or more minutes of vigorous exercise 3 times a week. The minimum amount of continuous exercise should be 10 minutes. However, most athletes regularly exercise for longer periods of time, and for more total minutes per week. It is important that proper stretching, cool down techniques and nutrition, accompany a cardiovascular exercise routine.


Intensity of exercise and how to monitor with Heart Rate

A useful tool to gauge exercise endurance is target heart rate (HR). To use target HR, resting HR should first be determined. The best way to do this is to check HR on the wrist upon waking up in the morning, but before getting out of bed. Normal resting HR range is 60-100 beats per minute in adults, but in well trained athletes it can be lower: 40-60 beats per minute. Once known, resting HR can serve as a guide to exertion during exercise. Additionally, HR should be periodically checked during exercise. The target number is 50-85% of a person’s max HR. Max HR is generally 220 minus age. Checking HR during exercise can help determine if an athlete is doing too much or too little.

If HR is significantly higher than target HR, then this means that the athlete is straining; on the other hand, if it is too low then the athlete is not working hard enough to change cardiovascular endurance. To get the most out of exercise, athletes should be training within target HR. In the beginning of a new aerobic exercise 50% of max HR is a good goal, and over time this can be increased to 85%.


Increasing Endurance: Interval training

Interval training can help build stamina within an activity or sport. The most effective way to improve aerobic endurance is through bursts of intense exercise followed by lighter exercise. There is not a set ratio of how to go about interval training, but generally the intense exercise is 3-4 minutes of exercise with a goal of 75-85% maximum HR, followed by 1-2 minutes of lighter exercise (50-60% maximum HR), and then the cycle is repeated.

Interval training ratios should be based on the sport or activity in which the athlete is trying to improve.

AMSSM Member Authors
Chelsea Cole, MD and Rachel Chamberlain, MD

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. h Published February 2014. Accessed March 9, 2017.

Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(7):1334-1359. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e318213fefb.







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