Cardiovascular fitness is the most important aspect of any fitness program. Cardiovascular fitness should be the mainstay of any fitness program.  This section is designed to explain the definition of cardiovascular fitness, the benefits of cardiovascular fitness program,  warm up and cool down aspects of cardiovascular fitness, the different modes of cardiovascular fitness,  the criteria of cardiovascular fitness, explain how to monitor cardiovascular intensity levels, the factors of improving cardiovascular fitness, and the methods of cardiovascular training.

Cardiovascular Fitness:  A Definition


Cardiovascular fitness also called cardiorespitory fitness is the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen to the blood and the heart to transport the oxygenated blood to the cells of the body.  It is also the ability of the body to sustain an activity for an extended period of time.



Benefits of a Cardiovascular Fitness Program


Participating in a cardiovascular conditioning program can help the participant to:


- lower blood pressure
- increase HDL cholesterol
- decrease total cholesterol
- decrease body fat due to utilizing fat as energy
- increase heart function and its ability to pump more blood
- decrease stress reactions and anxiety
- reduce glucose-stimulated insulin
- increase oxygen output to body
- decrease resting heart rate
- increase cardiac output
- increase aerobic work capacity



Now that we know the benefits of a cardiovascular program lets examine the components of a proper program.  Which include warm-up, cool down, and criteria for cardiovascular exercises.



Warm up



The warm-up should increase the heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, dilate the blood vessels, increase elasticity of the active muscles, and increase the heat produced by the muscle groups to be used during exercise.


 A proper warm-up consists of two phases:



1)  A graduated aerobic warm-up activity - This is a warm-up to get the blood flowing into the muscles.  This also heats up the muscles making them less prone to injury.  Any aerobic activity done at very low intensity can serve to warm-up the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.



2)  Stretching or Flexibility - This is to be performed on the muscle groups you will be exercising during your cardiovascular activity.  An example would be a quadriceps stretch before bicycling.



The warm-up phase should last anywhere from 5 - 10 minutes.  For most activities 5 minutes may be good enough.


Stretching should always follow the low intensity aerobic warm-up activity as it is easier to stretch the muscle groups when they are warm.  An example of a good warm-up would be 5 minutes of walking followed by 3 minutes of light stretching.  Try to hold your stretch for at least 20 seconds during the warm-up



Cool Down


The purpose of a cool down is to slowly decrease the cardiovascular work and overall metabolism that were elevated during the cardiovascular activity.  A cool down consists of slowing down the intensity level of the cardiovascular activity you are performing slowly.  Stopping exercise suddenly can be dangerous.  A cool down keeps the body circulating blood and keeps blood from pooling in the veins.  A cool down is extremely important for people who are in the beginning stages of an exercise program.


A proper cool down should last about 5 -10 minutes for each thirty minutes of exercise.  If the cardiovascular activity is performed for longer periods or is of higher intensity the cool down phase should last longer.



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