These ten ways of supporting the cardiovascular system may surprise you. Which one will you try?
Do the words “cardiovascular exercise” provoke a sour taste in your mouth?
It’s okay! No one blames you. It’s not a fun set of syllables. Hearing those terms may trigger thoughts of regimented, athletic examples of moving your body unwillingly with no clear purpose or destination. Perhaps you—like so many of us—assume that cardio can only be accomplished if it’s one of the following activities: running, biking, walking, jogging, swimming, or racing after some sort of ball that may or may not have a foot or basket associated with it.
But what if you discovered that there are other forms of cardiovascular exercise? And what if you learned that these forms don’t necessarily require extra time, funds, partners, or any degree of athletic ability—or even inclination?
Yes, this might sound a little too good to be true.
But in the list of activities that we’ll explore in this article, you’ll find that you have plenty of options within your natural preferences and lifestyle that could easily meet your ideal level of cardiovascular stimulation.
The suggestions here are based on gentle movement and breath-encouraging ideas for a non-athletic individual in general, and not meant to be taken as medical advice beyond the relevant studies and scientific evidence given as support for the various benefits associated with these practices.
Be wise, be safe, and have fun!
Although this may sound like leaving your modesty behind to go skinny dipping in the woods, forest bathing is a practice that simply involves immersing yourself in nature. This can mean any number of natural havens in your area. A helpful idea can be to list all of your local parks within a comfortable distance, and make monthly, weekly, or even daily trips to adventure through them.
This journey can be incredibly valuable as you build an awareness of your current levels of walking comfort and endurance, particularly when encountering unexpected or unusual terrain that you wouldn’t find on a treadmill or on your kitchen floor. Let yourself become enraptured by your experience of nature and feel free to record your surroundings, thoughts, or anything that comes to mind on your quest.
Going off of the previous example of forest bathing, imagine all the pleasure of getting out in nature—this time, with a furry friend to accompany you! Dogs need exercise just as much as humans, and they’re even less likely to want to spend that time in a gym. Dogs—and outdoor pets in general—have so much to teach us about freedom of movement.
The next appointment you have with your four-legged loved one, take the opportunity to notice the beauty, grace, and utter un-self-consciousness with which they let their limbs lead in any direction they desire. It’s not often that we allow ourselves to move so unfettered; maybe our animals can teach us how to recover that sense of freedom.
Singing or Playing Music
Did you know that music is a form of cardio? Opera singers burn a surprising number of calories during rehearsal, according to a fascinating study at the University of Toronto in 2014 that documented the approximate caloric expenditure of these magnificent performers as they practiced for the stage. The findings were incredible: In a less-than-three-minute aria, singers burned an average of 22.5 calories, which is comparable to walking for five minutes on a treadmill.
The London Singing Institute offers further statistics on how performing music is a viable form of exercise. Regardless of whether your goal is to lose weight or simply improve your cardiovascular stamina, there couldn’t be a more pleasant way to do it while artistically and creatively expressing yourself, unless…
There we go! It’s no secret that dance makes you sweat, thanks to Jane Fonda and all who came after her. The decadent discipline of dance can vie with the above activities for maximum creative expression with minimum worries about cleaving to a regimented cardiovascular routine. You can easily find classes in your area just by doing an internet search, and often some of the best neighborhood instructors might shirk social media entirely and post flyers at a local community center or coffee shop, thereby creating groups and environments where you can connect to others on a more personal level.
Let yourself explore the structured worlds of ballet and ballroom, or edge into the flowing styles of modern and contemporary dance. Or challenge yourself to try something entirely new, like hip-hop, K-pop, or Bharatnatyam!
Have you ever considered practicing the act of breathing as a way to get in touch with your cardiovascular system? Breathwork is literally just the practice of breathing in and out at different rates and in different patterns, and developing the wonderful quality of insight about how your body works to create this process. It’s supported by science as a viable cardiovascular support activity as well, thanks to a study on pranayama.
See if you can make space in your day to discover your own sense of breathwork; observe the quiet flutter of your heart and lungs in concert with your rib cage and intercostal muscles, allowing yourself the delight and comfort of mastering the sensation of that internal dance. This kind of awareness can carry over during moments of stress or panic, so definitely profit off of this practice.
The old adage “Laughter is the best medicine” is now fully supported by extensive scientific research around its cardiovascular benefits. Not only that, but it has been further studied to examine its benefits on the immune system, stress levels, inflammation, and many other markers associated with quality of life. Laughter can be a life-changer for those suffering from chronic pain or stress.
To find your own sense of laughter, try going on a “humor hunt” and making a quest of finding things that rouse a deep, hearty chuckle—or more! If you don’t immediately alight upon the sources of humor that speak most to you, then don’t worry. These explorations always take time, so let yourself enjoy the process of finding your fun. Because after all, if the process isn’t fun, what’s there to laugh about when you get to it?
It’s possible that some individuals reading this article will have their own experiences being up at the front of a classroom, leading a group in the pursuit of ultimate knowledge. (Or at least, basic algebra, right?)
Do you remember what it was like to be up there at the blackboard (or dry-erase, or Smartboard) and slowly find yourself getting winded as the day went on? It turns out that teaching does indeed pack a significant ability to cut through our energy reserves through walking and standing, so don’t be shy about taking a little pride or pleasure in the fact that by contributing to the collective knowledge base, you’re doing some good for yourself and your own cardiovascular system as well.
Acting and Performing
If teaching already has been demonstrated to expend significant physical effort, then what about pretending to teach for an audience who isn’t expected to believe a word that comes out of your mouth?
Acting and performing are arts of convincing the audience to empathize, emote, or otherwise be taken in by your performance, which means that you might have to engage on a level beyond teaching. Needless to say, resources around acting, singing, and music are all in agreement about this fact. So ham it up—it’s good for your heart!
Can you remember who it was that said, “shopping is cardio?” Whoever it was, they were right. Shopping can be broken down into the practice of lifting light-to-heavy loads and slowly walking with them, all of which are familiar forms of exercise if we switch out the hangers for barbells and the shopping aisles for lifting racks or ellipticals.
But shopping can sometimes have the additional benefit of being a stress reliever and a social activity—when used properly—so it has that carryover aspect as well for mental health. Just remember to shop wisely.
Finally, when was the last time you had a good talk with a loved one or a dear friend? Do you remember? It’s possible that you might have felt a little worn out afterwards, maybe a little tired, as if you had walked a few miles even if all you did was hang out in your living room. Don’t worry! Remember: Increased cardiovascular activity can be as simple as talking with extra air in your voice due to excitement (as in teaching or performing) or emotion (as in acting, singing, and dance), with a hearty conversation offering the added benefit of person-to-person connection.