Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to how well your heart and lungs work together to transport oxygen to your muscles and how efficiently your muscles absorb and use that oxygen during activity.
Throughout this recent pandemic, health specialists have emphasized the importance of hand washing, disinfecting surfaces, wearing face masks, staying home, and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to abiding by federal and local mandates and CDC suggestions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, developing a strong cardiovascular and respiratory system will help tp prevent lung infections and improve the body’s ability to fight viruses. Stay-at-home mandates do not mean staying indoors. Exercising outdoors is one of the best ways to improve lung health.
A 2017 long-term study on cardiorespiratory fitness and future risk of pneumonia shows an inverse association between cardiorespiratory fitness and future risks for pneumonia. In other words, the better your cardiorespiratory fitness, the less likely you are to get pneumonia.
Other studies indicate that regular physical activity is beneficial to immunological health. A strong immune system reduces the incidence of communicable infections—bacterial and viral infections like COVID-19, flu, and colds—as well as non-communicable diseases—chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Simply put, good cardiorespiratory fitness decreases the likelihood of contracting infections while increasing the capability to fight off and recover from infections if you do get them.
Without access to gyms and group sports and fitness activities, how can we maintain and/or improve cardiorespiratory fitness from home?
Go for a Walk
Walking, a form of exercise accessible to nearly everyone, can easily be adopted by people of all ages and fitness levels. Regular walking improves lung and heart health, increases bone density, and decreases risks for both acute and chronic diseases.
While walking indoors on a treadmill is better than being a couch potato, walking outside has benefits that you can’t get indoors. Unlike a motorized treadmill that does part of the work for you, walking outside requires feet to push off the ground to propel your body forward which results in increased strength and bone density and improved balance and overall fitness. Being outdoors also improves mood and boosts mental health—especially beneficial during isolation and being cut off from normal routines. Breathing fresh clean air also cleans the lungs and strengthens the immune system. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher indoors than out.
STEP IT UP: To increase the intensity of your walk with intervals, speed walk to a landmark about 100 meters away. Once you reach the landmark, slow down and continue for another 300 meters.
Go for a Bike Ride
Cycling improves cardiorespiratory fitness along with lower body strength and power. Additionally, pedaling activates and strengthens muscles around knee joints that might lead to fewer knee injuries.
To avoid injury and enjoy the ride, it’s important for the bike to fit and the saddle to be adjusted appropriately to your height. Saddles positioned too low can lead to awkward knee angles, resulting in knee pain and injuries. Follow this guide: Standing next to the bike, the saddle should be about hip height. With the saddle at hip height, when legs are fully extended on pedals, knees should have a slight bend.
GO THE DISTANCE: To increase the intensity of a bike ride, incorporate intervals of sprints and hills.
Backyard Obstacle Course
Even high school kids I work with love obstacle courses—especially when we add a competitive component by timing their runs. No cones, ladders, or special equipment? Not needed! Scavenge the garage, basement storage, and kids’ playroom for gadgets to assemble a one-of-a-kind course.
Incorporate these activities for a fun and productive backyard obstacle course.
- Lateral Moves
- Diagonal Moves
- Back Shuffles
- Climb Overs
- Crawl Unders
- Your Choice
Tag, Soccer, Basketball, and Other Sports with Family
Playing sports is such a fun way to improve cardiorespiratory health that we give little thought to all the benefits.
Active sports and games are excellent activities that improve coordination, strength, agility, and fundamental movement patterns—vital for competitive and recreational athletics as well as tasks for everyday living.
Dynamic Movement and Mobility Routine
The routine I use for clients to warm up before strength training sessions is a series that I also recommend—and perform myself—at home to break up time spent sitting. In addition to getting blood pumping to muscles, this dynamic series of exercises improves balance and mobility. When the routine is repeated several times, it serves as a low-intensity cardiorespiratory workout.
TAKE A STAND—GET MOVIN’: Set a goal to get up every hour or so and get your body moving. Watch the Dynamic Mobility Warm-Up video (below).
- Walking Butt Kick (20x)
- Walking High-Knee Pull (20x)
- Pendulum Kick (10x each leg)
- Walking High Knee with Hip Stretch (20x)
- Walking Lunge with Arm Over (20x)
- Squat with Scap Touch (10x)
- Hip Hinge with Arm Swing (10x)
- Arms Extended Rotation (10x)
- Diagonal Knee to Shoulder (10x each side)
- Ankle Rock (15x)
- Lateral Hop (20x)
- Single-Leg Ball Toss (20x each leg)
Before speed and agility training, sports practices, and competitions, add in the following:
- Jogging Butt Kick (20—30 yards down and back)
- High-Knee Skip (20—30 yards down and back)
- Zig-Zag Hop (20—30 yards down and back)
- Finish with a Few Jogs to 3/4 Sprints
Go for a Run
Jogging, a high-impact activity, isn’t for everyone. For those who are overweight or have knee or hip injuries, low-impact cardiorespiratory activities (above) are recommended. That’s not to say that every overweight person and every person with joint injuries shouldn’t run. I believe that lower impact activities for these populations can bring equal benefit without risks for injuries.
If you want a higher intensity workout than walking, running could be for you; however, speed walking and walking hills can bring your heart rate into the same zone as a slow jog.
As stated above in “Go for a Walk,” jogging outside has additional benefits that you won’t get from running indoors on a treadmill. On sidewalks and trails, feet push off the ground to propel your body forward. Plus, being outdoors can elevate your mood—more so than exercising indoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Inhaling clean air helps to clean lungs and boost immunity.
SPEED IT UP: To increase the intensity of jogging with intervals, incorporate sprint intervals, hill intervals, and stair intervals (if you find them on your route).