Medical News Today: What to know about cardiorespiratory endurance

Cardiorespiratory endurance is an indication of a person’s overall physical health. Cardiorespiratory endurance tests monitor how well the heart, lungs, and muscles perform during moderate to high-intensity exercise.

Increasing cardiorespiratory endurance improves oxygen uptake in the lungs and heart and can help a person sustain physical activity for longer.

Other names for cardiorespiratory endurance include cardiovascular fitness, cardiovascular endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness.

In this article, we discuss what cardiorespiratory endurance is, how a person can measure it, and why it is important. We also look at how to improve cardiorespiratory endurance, including some examples of exercises.

What is it?

Cardiorespiratory endurance measures how well the body performs during long periods of exercise. A person with high cardiorespiratory endurance can sustain high-intensity activities over an extended period without getting tired.

Measuring a person’s cardiorespiratory endurance involves examining how well their body takes in and utilizes oxygen.

When a person inhales, their lungs fill up with air and some of the oxygen it contains passes into the bloodstream. This oxygen-rich blood then travels to the heart, which circulates it around the body to the tissues and organs that need it.

The muscles require an adequate supply of oxygen and other nutrients to work properly during high-intensity or extended periods of exercise. If the muscles do not get enough nutrients, waste products begin to accumulate and cause fatigue.

A person’s level of cardiorespiratory endurance can directly affect their physical performance.

How is it measured?

Tests that measure cardiorespiratory endurance include:

Metabolic equivalents

Metabolic equivalents (METs) refers to the ratio between the energy expended during physical activity and the energy expended while at rest. Finding a person’s MET involves measuring how much oxygen their body uses at rest.

Maximum oxygen uptake

Maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) test determines the maximum amount of oxygen the body is capable of using during high-intensity activities, such as sprinting or biking.

The VO2 max test typically involves running on a treadmill or pedaling on a stationary bike as fast as possible. During the test, the person wears a chest strap or other body attachment that records their heart rate and a face mask that measures oxygen consumption.

Why is it important?

Cardiorespiratory endurance indicates a person’s level of aerobic health and physical fitness. This information can benefit everyone, not just professional athletes.

Having a high cardiorespiratory endurance generally means that a person can perform high-intensity exercise for longer.

People trying to lose weight may want to focus on increasing their cardiorespiratory endurance because doing higher-intensity aerobic activities can help a person burn more calories.

Scientific research also suggests some other potential health benefits from having an improved cardiorespiratory endurance. For example:

  • A 2017 study suggests that people with higher cardiorespiratory endurance are less likely to develop high blood pressure than those with a lower cardiorespiratory endurance.
  • In a 2015 study, researchers found a positive correlation between cardiorespiratory endurance levels and multitask performance among adults aged between 59 and 80 years.
  • Improving cardiorespiratory endurance may decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality, according to a 2015 study.

How to improve it

People can improve their cardiorespiratory endurance through regular exercise.

The authors of a 2019 study reported that resistance training, endurance training, and high-intensity interval training led to improvements in cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular strength among adults who were aged 40–65 years old and who were not previously physically active.

A 2017 study investigated the effectiveness of a 12-week cross-circuit training program in students who were overweight and had intellectual disabilities. The researchers found participants who followed the training program had an improved exercise endurance, muscle strength, and body mass index.

The following exercises can help improve cardiorespiratory endurance, build muscle, and burn calories. People can perform these physical activities at home or add them to their gym routine.

Try doing these exercises in sets of 10–15 repetitions, or as many repetitions as possible for 1 minute with a 20-second break in between sets.

Jumping jacks:

  1. Start by standing upright with legs together and arms at the sides of the body.
  2. Jump up. While in the air, open the legs to spread the feet wide apart and raise the arms overhead.
  3. While landing, bring the feet and arms back to the starting position.

Burpees:

  1. Begin standing with the feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend the knees and place the hands on the floor in front to come down into a squat position.
  3. Jump the legs out behind to get into the push-up position, shifting the body’s weight onto the hands.
  4. Jump the feet back into the squat position.
  5. Jump up into the air with arms raised above the head.
  6. Land back in the squat position.

Mountain climbers (running planks):

  1. Start in the plank position, aligning the shoulders over the wrists and keeping the legs straight. Keep the back flat and the head aligned with the spine.
  2. Engage the core muscles.
  3. Bring the right knee towards the chest.
  4. Switch legs by returning the right leg to the starting position and bringing the left knee towards the chest. This completes one repetition.

Side-shuffle touches:

  1. Start in a standing position with the feet shoulder-width apart and the arms down by the sides.
  2. Bend the knees and squat down.
  3. Shuffle a shoulder-width to the right and then touch the floor outside the right foot with the fingertips of the right hand.
  4. Shuffle a shoulder-width to the left and then touch the floor outside the left foot with the fingertips of the left hand.
  5. This is one repetition.

Other exercises that can help improve cardiorespiratory fitness include:

  • running
  • power walking
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • jump rope
  • high-intensity sports, such as basketball and soccer

Summary

Cardiorespiratory endurance is a measure of how well the heart, lungs, and muscles perform during moderate to high-intensity physical activity.

Getting regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can improve cardiorespiratory endurance. Aerobic exercises can help promote heart and lung health and improve how well the body circulates and utilizes oxygen.

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