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Cardiovascular Fitness



Well-known member
May 22, 2015
Whenever you visit the doctor for a check-up session, you already know the vital signs that they check for. They check your blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature. If anything goes wrong with these vital signs, then something could go wrong with your heart health too.

But do you know that there's another vital sign that shouldn't be overlooked? This one has just as much effect on your heart health as the others. Your cardiovascular fitness level has a significant impact on your health just as much as smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol do.

Just like your every other vital signs test, a simpler fitness test can provide more information on your cardiovascular health.

bodybuilder running

Types of cardiovascular fitness exercise​

There are different types of cardiovascular fitness exercises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines the different types of cardiovascular fitness exercises based on the intensity of each of them.

  • Low-intensity cardiovascular exercise increases your heart rate to a point that's not more than 63% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise increases your heart rate to 64%-76% of your maximum heart rate.
  • High-intensity cardiovascular exercise increases your heart rate to 77%-93% of your maximum heart rate.

During your exercise, you can monitor your heart rate using a heart monitor or a fitness tracker. To measure your maximum heart rate or watch your heart rate zones, you can use a chart; the American Heart Association has provided one you can use.

Cardiovascular Fitness as a Vital Sign​

Cardiovascular fitness can also be called cardiorespiratory fitness(CRF). Your CRF has a major impact on your health and the possibility of health outcomes. Your CRF measures how efficiently your body takes in oxygen and spread it across your muscles and organs during a long period of exercise. More often than not, the higher your CRF level, the lower the chances of developing a variety of health conditions.

For instance, certain diseases like cancer and high mortality rates are associated with levels of CRF according to the AHA(American Heart Association).

The AHA introduced a cardiorespiratory fitness check as part of a regular vital signs checkup after considering the relationship between CRF and overall health issues.

During their research, the AHA discovered the following:

  • Cardiovascular fitness level is connected to heart failure risk and a tendency for an individual to suffer heart failure hospitalization in the future.
  • Low CRF determines if a person is at risk of stroke.
  • Making the most of CRF before surgical sessions can improve the result of the surgery including reducing surgical risk, and mortality rate and increasing the ability to perform after the surgery.

An Important Check During Checkups​

Incorporating CRF into traditional tests carried out at regular physicals can better help assess your risk for health issues and dangers. The result can help you take appropriate measures to maintain a healthier state.

The most common test that health experts use to measure your cardiorespiratory health is a fitness test also called an exercise stress test.

How does this test work? The test provides information about your heart's activity especially during physical activities; since your heart is more active and beats faster during exercises than when you're at rest and doing nothing.

When you're taking an exercise stress test, you'll be required to undergo some exercises like walking, jogging, running/hiking on a treadmill, or riding a stationary bike.

While you're doing this, your rhythm, blood pressure, and breathing will be monitored. After the test, your health expert will review the results with you.

However, the exercise stress test isn't meant for those who have a history of a heart condition or people that experience irregular heart rhythms. So before engaging in an exercise stress test, make sure to consult with your doctor about whether you're good to go for the test.

As recommended by the American Heart Association, you can use cardiopulmonary exercise testing(CPX) in some situations.

How does the CPX test work? A CPX test entails when a health expert measures your oxygen level, the amount of carbon dioxide you're producing, and your breathing rhythm while you're doing an exercise. This extra information helps the expert document an accurate and well-detailed quantification of CRF, according to the AHA.

Measure Your Fitness Level​

If you're eager to know your cardiorespiratory fitness level but you don't have any check-up appointments anytime soon with your doctor, you can do it yourself.

You can assess your fitness level using the "12-minute run test". This method is used in different settings even in military training. This method is trusted and reliable and it has been used for years to measure cardiovascular health.

Check out the steps for the 12-minute run test below:

  1. Grab a stopwatch or timer.
  2. Do some warm-ups before the actual exercise. You could walk, jog or do some stretches.
  3. Run at a stable pace, with enough speed but without wearing yourself out unnecessarily for 12 minutes.
  4. Take a rest after the test, and calculate the distance you ran in miles using a decimal figure.

Before you head out, here are a few things to keep at the back of your mind:

  • You should be in a good state of health which means you must not be suffering from any coronary disease, peripheral artery disease, COPD, heart failure, and other related health issues.
  • You should have started your training at least six weeks before when you take the test.
  • The stress test and CPX must be carried out under professional medical attention.
  • If you suddenly become tired during the test, then take a break and contact your medical expert.

Lastly, when you take the test, use the chart provided by the United States Department of Defence to compare your results by age and gender.

The different categories in the chart rank your fitness level from " very poor" to "excellent". This test can let you know your cardiorespiratory fitness level.

Health Benefits of Cardiovascular Fitness​

Cardiovascular fitness plays an important role in our health, especially heart health. When you're cardiovascularly fit, you're at less risk of suffering from heart conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Doing cardiovascular fitness exercises can help to prevent:

  • Angina
  • Arterial blockage
  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
  • Blood clots
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance syndrome
  • Ischemia
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Stroke

Also, there are added benefits of cardiovascular fitness exercise apart from preventing the conditions mentioned above. Engaging in regular cardiovascular fitness exercise, a study has shown that it helps reduce weight gain, reduce depression, reduce anxiety levels, and improve life generally.

5 Ways to Improve Cardiovascular Fitness​

Cardiovascular fitness is highly beneficial to as many that are willing to start giving it a try. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, there are different things you can do to ensure that your cardiovascular system gets improved.
  1. Don't Smoke​

Smoking is one of the major causes of heart disease and cancer. If you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness, then you should consider quitting smoking. Smoking can be difficult to quit, that's why it's okay to seek help from your health provider. With the help of your health provider, you'll start to quit gradually.
  1. Get Regular Exercise​

Getting regular exercise trains your heart and helps your heart pump and circulate blood throughout your body. Other exercises can help build your heart but aerobic activities particularly improve cardiovascular fitness.

Below are some examples of aerobic activities that can help improve your cardiovascular fitness:

  • Aerobic dance
  • Bicycling
  • Brisk walking
  • Elliptical trainer
  • Exercise bike
  • Hiking
  • Interval circuit training
  • Jogging
  • Jumping rope
  • Rowing
  • Spin class
  • Stairclimber
  • Yoga (certain types)

  1. Relax​

Too much stress in the body can cause heart disease too. Accumulated stress results in increased cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body. When there's an unusual increase of these hormones in the body, it can cause heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

After a stressful day, find something to do that relaxes you. You could engage in deep breathing exercises, meditation, or other exercises that help to relieve stress.
  1. Get Enough Sleep​

Lack of sleep and poor sleeping habits have been linked to heart disease. An average adult is supposed to get eight hours of sleep every night. But many adults abuse their sleep by overworking themselves and still not getting enough sleep.

Getting good and quality sleep however improves the health of the heart. Ensure to always create time to sleep and do that in a calm and peaceful environment.
  1. Eat a Healthy Diet​

Having a proper diet helps to keep your energy levels up and blood helps blood to circulate properly in the body. A heart-healthy diet supplies more nutrition to the body and this kind of diet should be low in sodium, simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugars. There should be sufficient vegetables, lean proteins, and fruits in the diet.

On a final note;​

In trying to improve your cardiovascular fitness, try not to overdo it or overwork yourself. You can take the whole process one step at a time. Over time, you'll be able to get the desired result.

Also, remember to seek professional assistance if you ever need any. On your journey to cardiovascular fitness, you may need a certified healthcare provider, a dietitian, or a personal trainer. Professional assistance will help you achieve your goal faster.
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