The heart is a body’s most important muscle, pumping blood to every organ automatically, all day long. Only a healthy heart can perform this function without disturbance and, like all muscles, good health requires activity.

Don’t shudder when you see the word “cardio,” the term usually associated with exercises for heart health. This word can be frightening to someone who isn’t used to exercising, but are you really unaccustomed to exercise? Maybe you’re looking at the topic from an unhelpful angle.

What is Cardio?

Anything which gets your heart pumping more than its usual, resting rate for an extended period of time is good for you. Experts disagree as to how much that “extended period of time” should be, but allow yourself between 20 and 30 minutes to be sure you did some good. After just a week or so, you will discover how quickly your heart adapts to this new routine.

What are Some Typical Cardio Exercises?

For a long time, fitness advocates thought of aerobics as “cardio workouts,” thanks to the likes of Kathy Smith and Jane Fonda, but these ladies and many others introduced variations such as step workouts and dancing for fitness so their fans wouldn’t become bored.

Kick boxing and martial arts-style programs have become popular. A number of experts have combined Pilates and yoga with weights or more vigorous movements to create a fusion of exercise styles. Their purpose is to blend stretching with cardio and weight bearing moves into short programs the average person can fit into a busy schedule.

Also, shorter workouts encourage those who find the idea daunting to give exercise a try. Tell someone a session will last 45 minutes and he is likely to turn you down. Tell him he can choose two or three 10-minute sessions from a list of six options to accomplish all his body needs and that’s a different story.

Are You Doing Cardio Already?

Another exercise people often dismiss but which can really help is walking. If you aren’t ready to really sweat or you don’t have room in your home for aerobics, go for a brisk walk. Make sure you are breathing hard by the time you finish. For an inactive person, introducing a 20- to 30-minute walk to your daily routine every day will make a huge difference to fitness and, if weight is an issue, will also help you lose inches.

Perhaps you already walk daily, maybe half an hour, at least once. Is the pace brisk enough to make your blood pump faster? Congratulations: you’re doing cardio and you didn’t know it. We often forget that regular routines become workouts: walking to the store to buy groceries or to pick up the children from school; taking the dog for a walk; cleaning the house; or gardening.

If a routine requires energy and makes us use our big muscles (thigh and buttock muscles) and we don’t stay in one position the whole time, it’s probably a fitness routine in disguise.

Get More Cardio and Have Fun

What if you are already doing these things but your goal is to become fitter, lose weight, or to deal with a reversible condition like Type 2 Diabetes or high blood pressure? Your doctor will have recommended a change of diet along with exercise, especially cardio.

Perhaps your usual walk isn’t quite vigorous enough. The route is flat and unchallenging or you walk too slowly. Set yourself a challenge to walk to the same route more quickly until you are huffing and puffing. As your current speed becomes comfortable, add ankle and/or wrist weights to increase your effort. Walk twice daily: before work and after.

Set aside at least two days each week where you combine cleaning jobs around your home to create a workout. It’s easy to make this routine last half an hour at least. During that time, perform some jobs where you stand up (mopping, vacuuming) and alternate those with bending jobs (cleaning the toilets). If you are lifting a vacuum or mop bucket around, that is sure to add even more benefit to the session.

Adopt a dog if you can commit to taking it out for walks daily and are able to financially support a pet. Animals are good for moods and motivate people to move as well. Remember to stretch before and after performing cardio exercises to prevent injury.