Living with Longevity - July 2024 - South Sound YMCA

Living with Longevity – July 2024

By: Brad Hankins

This month we will begin exploring the three primary fitness practices which together make the foundation of fitness.  The practices are cardio/aerobic exercise, resistance (weight) training and body movement. Body movement being any activity causing changes in direction, position and speed e.g. yoga, pickleball, dance, basketball, tai chi etc.

This month let’s examine the most familiar of the three, cardio/aerobic which has been at the forefront of modern fitness since the 70’s and early 80’s.  Who knows, you might have a dogeared copy of Jim Fixx’s book Running in the attic or still occasionally rock that hot pink headband from those VCR work outs with Jane Fonda.  Cardio has been a fitness staple, and financial success, for decades.

The two most common cardio questions I get from clients are 1) do I really have to do this and 2) how much is enough? The answers are yes, and it depends. The yes is based on years of empirical clinical evidence indicating aerobic exercise is the single best modifiable factor in the prevention of, and recovery from, cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions. The it depends is directly related to your current level of fitness and desired goals. Of this there is no debate, the path to physical health goes through the crucible of cardio.

If you have a chronic health condition always consult your medical provider before beginning any exercise program.

Cardio exercise is any movement which increases heart and breathing rates, and sustains those elevated rates over time.  Aerobic (the terms cardio and aerobic are interchangeable in the exercise vernacular) means the movement is sustained long enough your body begins using oxygen as one of its energy sources.  The movement can be walking, running, biking, swimming – any movement using large muscle groups.  The good news is most everyone has the equipment to begin walking for exercise, a great cardio practice.  Essentially a pair of comfortable shoes with good support, a selection of pants/shirts/jackets, and in our area a raincoat is all you need.  And a dog if you have one, dogs need cardio too.

Treadmills, exercise bikes and elliptical machines are great to help focus your aerobic activity.  Your favorite branch of the SSYMCA has a selection of cardio equipment and staff to help with machine set up and review basic walking or peddling instructions.  Then there’s swimming, which is both an aerobic and resistance exercise.  Your local Y has a pool, or pools, available for lap swims as well as instructors and classes.  With these resources available weather is not an excuse to avoid increasing heart rate and respiration.

A good initial time goal is 20 minutes of sustained movement that increases both heartrate and breathing, three times a week. However, if five or ten minutes is your beginning exercise limit, that’s great – the important thing is you have made a commitment to exercise regularly!

When a 20-minute goal is reached then begin working toward a 50-minute goal by slowly increasing exercise time 10% per week, but do not exceed a 5 minute increase at any given time.  In the beginning, exercise duration is more important than intensity.  In other words, first increase your time on the treadmill, not the incline.  When you get to 50 minutes, then experiment with incline.

Measuring exercise intensity can be done either by monitoring heart rate or breathing difficulty.  Self-heart rate monitoring can be tricky when walking outside, however most cardio equipment at the SSYMCA branches have heartrate monitors built into the safety bars.  Safe exercise heart rate ranges by age can be found at the American Health Association website:

Breathing rates are best gauged by the ability to speak in full sentences when exercising.  In other words, you do not want to exercise to the point of gasping when talking. Your exercise buddy can help monitor your breathing or simply ask yourself if someone asked me a question right now, could I answer in a full sentence?  If you find yourself unable to respond in a full sentence simply slow your exercise speed, but don’t stop exercising. Then give yourself two to three minutes at the new exercise speed and reassess your breathing.

Cardio exercise is critical to health improvement and necessary to reach new fitness levels.  However, it doesn’t have to be intimidating and can be an enjoyable practice, regardless of age.  Please let us know how we can help add a cardio exercise practice to your fitness journey.

If you have questions or would like to share your fitness journey, please email me at

Brad Hankins RN, CPT