When most people think of cardiovascular (cardio) exercises, the first activities that come to mind are running, cycling, or swimming.

Yes, these are great ways to get your heart rate up, but not everyone enjoys them. Cardio should be a key part of your healthy lifestyle. Luckily, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

If you’re looking to incorporate more cardio into your exercise routine, don’t be intimidated by the seasoned marathon runners you see around your neighborhood. Heart-healthy workouts don’t have to involve spending hours on the treadmill. There are plenty of fun and creative ways to get your cardio in and actually enjoy it.

Why Do You Need Cardio in the First Place?

Cardio is defined as any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a prolonged period of time. Your respiratory system will start working harder as you begin to breathe faster and more deeply. Your blood vessels will expand to bring more oxygen to your muscles, and your body will release natural painkillers (endorphins).

The physical and mental benefits of this type of exercise are seemingly endless.

  • Manage your weight: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say there’s extensive scientific evidence that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week will help you maintain your weight over time. 
  • Ward off heart disease: Research has shown that getting your heart rate up with regular cardio exercises can help prevent cardiovascular disease, which accounted for 31 percent of global deaths in 2012. 
  • Mood improvement: It’s probably no surprise to you, but research supports the role that cardio exercise plays in improving your mood and increasing your happiness. Cardio ups the production of those feel-good painkillers called endorphins. 
  • Live longer: The Mayo Clinic suggests that people who regularly perform cardio exercise will live longer. 

Your Cardio Exercise Options

Think outside the box and try something new with these fun cardio options. The key to sticking with any successful workout plan is discovering an activity that you enjoy.

Once you find an exercise you love, you’ll be having so much fun that you’ll have to be reminded that you’re improving your health, too!

1. Jump Rope


Chances are, you haven’t jumped rope since 4th grade recess. If that’s the case, go get yourself a jump rope today! This form of cardio can be done just about anywhere. Turn up your favorite playlist and jump to the beat. Tossing your jump rope in a backpack, suitcase, or purse will help you squeeze in your 150 minutes of exercise per week whenever you have some spare time.

2. Dancing


Whether or not you think you have two left feet, dancing is a great way to blow off some steam while also getting your cardio in. You may think that dancing’s limited to Zumba classes, but what’s keeping you from simply dancing around your room? Crank the tunes and dance yourself silly.

3. Organized Sports


You may not think of yourself as a “sports person,” but there are tons of adult sports leagues out there that are full of people just like you — people who want to have fun and be healthy. Sign up for soccer, flag football, basketball, or whatever suits your fancy. Running around a field or court is guaranteed to increase your heart rate. Check your community for noncompetitive sports leagues. Maybe you’ll even make a new friend while you’re at it!

4. Power Walking


You don’t have to look like one of these power walkers to reap the benefits of this type of cardio. Step outside (or stick to the treadmill if the weather is bad) and pick up the pace.

5. Swimming


This low-impact form of cardio is a great way to get your heart rate up while protecting your joints. If you’re not fully confident in your swimming skills, grab a kickboard and do a few laps. This will engage not only your legs, but your abs, too.

6. Boxing


We can’t all be Rocky Balboa, but anyone can use boxing to get healthy. Just 30 minutes of boxing can help you burn up to 400 calories.

7. Trampoline-ing


If you have a huge, bouncy trampoline in your backyard, that’s awesome. Jumping and playing around is not only good for you, but fun, too!

If you don’t have a huge trampoline, don’t count yourself out of this one. You can get a compact trampoline to keep in your apartment. Putting on your favorite tunes and running or bouncing in place can be just as effective.

8. Cycling


There are plenty of ways to fit this type of cardio into your day. Swap your car for a bike on your next trip to the grocery store. Switch it up and ditch the treadmill for the stationary bike on your next trip to the gym. Bite the bullet and try that spin studio you’ve been eyeing for the past six months, or buy a trainer so you can ride your road bike in your house or garage.

9. Hiking


Love the outdoors? Hiking might be just the ticket to increase your ticker’s health. Getting moving outside will not only increase your cardiovascular fitness, but also boost your emotional well-being.

10. Rowing


Think that rowing machine is just for those who want bulging biceps? Think again! Squeezing rowing into your gym routine can give you an extra cardio boost, as well as strengthen your abs and back muscles. If you’ve never tried it, challenge yourself with something new.

11. Hula-Hooping


Sure, you probably haven’t done it since the last kids’ birthday party you went to, but why not? Swinging those hips around will up your heart rate and improve your core strength. And don’t worry — they make them in adult sizes.

12. Walking


You may be wondering if walking counts as cardiovascular exercise. Of course! This is a great starting place for people who are new to exercise. Even a 10-minute walk can get you on the road to improved heart health. Experienced exercisers benefit from it, too.

13. Jumping Jacks


If you haven’t done these since high school gym class, you’re missing out! This equipment-free activity can get your heart rate up in no time. Plus, they’re easy to do from anywhere. Start jumping first thing in the morning, when you need a break from your desk, or while you’re waiting for your dinner to finish cooking.

14. Stairs


Climbing stairs is a fantastic way to get your heart pumping and your body sweating. Find a park with a big set of stairs, or just a stairwell at a nearby building. Any climb will do. And if you need to stay indoors, the Stairmaster is your friend.

The Takeaway

There’s no debate that cardiovascular exercise is a key part of a long and healthy life. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make cardio a regular routine. Just remember that if you keep an open mind and get creative, there are plenty of ways to get your heart rate up. You shouldn’t feel confined to the treadmill.

The most important part of any fitness routine is finding what you enjoy. You’re much more likely to stick with a routine if it’s something you actually like. So experiment, try new things, and figure out how to relish breaking a sweat.