How Much Cardio Training Does an Older Adult Really Need?

Cardiovascular exercise is an integral part of any well-rounded fitness routine. Cardio activity strengthens your heart and lungs, leads to cognitive benefits, helps to manage your weight and gives you more energy in your day-to-day life. Given those amazing benefits, you should already be excited to get out there and sweat! But how much cardio should older adults be doing? How much is enough to enjoy all these health benefits?

How Much Cardio Training Do Older Adults Really Need?

Move More, Sit Less

The recommended federal physical activity guidelines for older adults are as follows:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. E.g. cycling, power walking, stand-up paddling, hiking.
  • Or, vigorous aerobic activity for a total of 75 minutes per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. E.g. a tennis match, running, a master’s swim session.
  • Or, an equivalent mix of both types of activity.

No matter what type of cardio you do, also aim for two or more days per week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity strength training where you work all major muscle groups each time. For older adults at risk of falls, there’s an additional recommendation to perform balance exercises.

Now, keep in mind that this is just a baseline minimum. For even greater health benefits, it’s recommended to increase your total moderate-intensity cardio exercise to 5 hours a week, or 2-and-a-half hours of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise.

Here we’re focusing on vigorous-intensity cardio exercise, performed in a structured manner. Often called high intensity interval training (HIIT), you’ll be alternating between short periods of hard effort and active recovery. You’ll get a fantastic workout in a short period of time.

20-Minute-HIIT-Program

Using rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is the simplest and most effective way to make sure you’re training at an appropriate intensity. The RPE runs on a 0 to 10 scale where 0 is sitting on the couch and 10 is exerting absolute maximum effort. Moderate cardio activity is 5 or 6 out of 10 (you should still be able to hold a conversation while performing the activity), and vigorous cardio activity is 7 or 8 (holding a conversation while performing the activity is too difficult).

Research has shown that RPE correlates very well to our actual heart rate. For example, a professional athlete’s “7” out of 10 will look quite different from a sedentary office worker’s “7” (the athlete could be running at 9 miles an hour while the office worker jogs at 4 miles per hour), but they’re both feeling similar, experiencing a similar spike in heart rate, and pushing themselves to a particular exertion level.

The 20-Minute HIIT Workout can be completed using any form of cardiovascular activity you enjoy. It might be most straightforward on gym cardio equipment like a treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike (where you can easily adjust the degree of difficulty), but it works just as well with activities like rowing (on a rower machine) or outdoor running, cycling, or stand-up paddling.

Just make sure you have an easy-to-read stopwatch handy. This workout assumes you have at least an intermediate baseline level of cardiovascular fitness.

About the Writer

Karina Inkster

Karina is a Certified Personal Training Specialist with a Master’s degree in Gerontology, and specializes in health and aging. Based in Vancouver, BC, she's the author of Vegan Vitality and Foam Rolling: 50 Exercises for Massage, Injury Prevention and Core Strength.

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