Dear Hayley,

I've a question about what counts as cardio because, to be perfectly blunt, I hate most "cardio" workouts. I know it's important to my overall health and benefits me in a way weight training doesn't, but I'm so unenthusiastic when I'm slogging away on a treadmill/bike/elliptical that I know the benefit is likely halved. (I've never achieved a runner's high. There's just pain and more pain for 3 miles and then I give up and want a nap.)

I do like exercise that combines weight bearing and other smooth movement that gets my heart rate up so I currently do 60 min Pilates 2x week; 60 min yoga 2x week; and, depending on the week, 1-2 sessions of 45 min circuit training with weights, always keeping track of and trying to increase reps or the weight. At the end of these workouts, my face is flushed, I'm sweaty, and I'm usually sore in the "good" way the next day.

Is this enough to maintain cardiovascular health? Or do I need to swap out one of my workouts for a HIIT session or long power walk? (Can it just be one? Please say one.)




This is a very common question. As I’ve quoted many times, Health Canada prescribes 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week for health, and you are well above that range, so if you are only concerned with being healthy, you do not have to worry.

When it comes to “cardio”, this can be achieved in many ways. The word cardio is used to describe many things, but cardiovascular exercise is such where you are working your cardiovascular system, and improving your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is one of the five components of fitness, the other four being muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. In a balanced exercise program, all of these components should be addressed through a proper strength, flexibility and aerobic routine, plus a healthy diet. 

If you are keeping your heart rate within your aerobic zone (roughly 70% of your maximum heart rate), it does not matter what activity you are doing to get it there. So, if your circuit workouts are doing this, and you are getting in 2 a week, then I would have to say you are getting a fair amount of cardio each week. I do suggest that you add in one more aerobic workout though, even if it is just a long power walk (at least an hour).

I am a big believer that fitness should be something you look forward to but it should also be something that challenges you. If you absolutely hate doing something, don’t do it. But find something you do enjoy.  We can’t all be runners, and I get that, but there has to be some form of cardio that you do enjoy. 
You can also try looking at cardio differently. I don’t love spin classes. The seat can be uncomfortable, I sweat profusely and my heart rate goes through the roof. It is not my favorite hour by any means. But what I do love about spin classes is how hard they push me, and how hard I have to push myself. I love how accomplished I feel afterwards and I spend the rest of the day buzzing off of the energy from the class. Maybe, just maybe, you can turn your hatred of cardio, as well as running, into something more positive. Turn the pain into something good. Turn the challenge it gives you into something positive. Get comfortable at being uncomfortable.

So, yes, you are getting enough to maintain your overall health, in all 5 components of fitness, but I think you have more in you and I challenge you to add one more cardio workout a week, plus see if you can turn your hatred of running into something a little more positive. And try this. Break your cardio sessions up into smaller pieces. Before your circuit workout run one mile (this shouldn’t take any longer than 10 minutes) and then after your circuit workout get on a bike and ride hard for 2 miles (another 10 minutes).  You can do anything for 10 minutes, and doing this will add another 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise to your week without even trying. 

Attached- Clive Owen jogging in New York the other day.