You are probably doing some cardiovascular exercise now, without paying much attention to it, but it’s best to do it regularly and deliberately. First, let’s look at what cardio (also called aerobic) exercise is.
Cardio exercise is rhythmic, sustained activity that uses large muscle groups-usually the legs. Examples are walking, running, bicycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, rowing, skating, and even jumping rope. Aerobics classes are fine if they have sustained movement. Stretch-and-tone doesn’t qualify. You should do this exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time at a pace that elevates your heart rate but doesn’t tire you out.
Cardio exercise improves cardiac function and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. It can reduce blood pressure, raise HDL (good) cholesterol, prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, and prevent some cancers. It reduces depression and anxiety, and even improves mental function. Cardio exercise can improve your endurance so you can do everyday activities easier and take on things you would not be able to do if you were not in good cardio shape. And, of course, it burns lots of calories.
Most seniors starting out choose walking as their exercise. There is no learning curve to get started. Walking is inexpensive, convenient, and carries a low risk of injury. All you really need is a good pair of walking shoes and some comfortable clothes you probably already have.
This does not mean that you should not jog or run if that’s what you want to do. There are people in their 80s who run marathons, and dedicated runners who started in their 60s. Walk first, then if you want to, go to a walk-and-run program, and then get into your running. The basic guideline for how much cardio you need for good health is walking 150 minutes a week. If you want to make your walking harder, walk faster or uphill.
Like cardio machines? You can use them at the gym or get one for home. A treadmill is just a machine for walking or running. A stationary bike is not as much fun as a road bike, but you can ride it fast more safely. You may want to consider the recumbent type if you are overweight or very out of shape. Elliptical trainers can be used for an easy workout or a strenuous one. They are easier to learn than stair steppers. Rowing machines are great if you are in moderately good shape.
Sports? If you’re a tennis player or golfer, stick with it. Softball, basketball, and other games are fine if you can handle them. But add some sustained walking or other cardio work. Most sports are too stop-and-go for good cardio workouts. Get in shape to play sports; don’t play sports to get in shape.
Let’s sum it up. Start walking at whatever ability you have, and work up slowly until you are walking briskly at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Do something similar if you use another mode of cardio exercise. You can get by with less time if you run or swim, and should go a bit more if you bike or skate. You can do your exercise 10 or 15 minutes at a time if that works better for you. If you do vigorous, high impact exercise, take a day off between sessions. You can mix the types of exercise if you want to. Have fun.