Fitness — as often as the term gets tossed around — is actually pretty vague. In reality, whether or not a person is truly "fit," according to most experts, depends on five different factors, among which is cardiorespiratory endurance, also referred to as cardiovascular endurance, or simply cardio. But what do these terms mean? What is cardiorespiratory endurance, and why is it important?
Before discussing why this particular aspect of fitness is so vital, it's important to first be clear regarding these different terms. While they do refer to similar things, there is still a large distinction.
Cardiovascular endurance measures the ability of your heart and blood vessels to transport blood during a workout. As the intensity of your workout increases, your muscles need more fuel as they produce more waste. To keep everything fed and clean, your heart then has to speed up, which places more stress on your veins, arteries and capillaries. Cardiovascular endurance benefits include improved heart health and an overall reduced chance of heart disease.
So what is cardiorespiratory endurance? As its name suggests, this aspect of fitness includes both your heart and your lungs. After all, a major portion of what your blood is carrying to those working muscles is oxygen. And part of the waste that needs to be carried away is carbon dioxide — which is brought to your lungs for exhalation. Put simply, cardiorespiratory endurance can be defined as the ability of your heart, lungs and muscles to work together over a long stretch of time.
To be fair, cardiovascular endurance benefits and those of cardiorespiratory endurance are essentially the same.
Improving Your Cardiorespiratory Endurance
Fortunately, there are a vast amount of ways in which you can improve your cardiorespiratory endurance. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), adults should aim to get at least 2.5 hours worth of moderate-intensity cardio each week. This can take just about any form you like, including:
- Brisk walking
All of these activities will train your heart and lungs to work faster and more efficiently. You will benefit from any activity, as long as it elevates your heart rate and you can perform it regularly. In fact, many people enjoy cross-training with different cardio activities throughout the week. If you're up for increasing the intensity of your workouts — say by running rather than jogging — you could even decrease the amount of time you spend training to 75 minutes.
The Role of Diet
It's also important to realize that cardiovascular endurance can be powerfully affected by other aspects of fitness — especially nutrition. Fish like salmon, tuna and sardines are all rich in a substance known as omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients have been shown to decrease inflammation, improve your cholesterol profile, normalize blood pressure and, overall, reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Interestingly, nitrate-rich vegetables like beets have also received a lot of attention over the past few years for their heart-healthy attributes. By improving blood flow, these foods can reduce the strain on your heart, enhance your exercise performance and improve your cardiovascular efficiency.