Cardiovascular endurance is more than part of a fitness routine; it’s how we push our bodies to do and achieve more - a measure of our physical performance. Other related terms include aerobic fitness, cardiovascular fitness, and aerobic capability, all relating to how efficiently oxygen is used in the body during cardiovascular endurance exercises.
What is cardiovascular endurance?
Cardiovascular endurance refers to the body’s ability to perform aerobic exercise over a sustained period. Aerobic exercise is any exertion where the breathing and heartbeat are elevated, prolonged, and depend on oxygen usage. You can distinguish aerobic from anaerobic exercise that is punctuated bursts of performance; activities that break down glucose for energy without the use of oxygen.
Cardiovascular endurance depends on how well the body can deliver oxygen to muscles. Muscles require oxygen when engaged in activity for long stretches. The longer we perform an activity, the more oxygen our body requires. This process involves our heart, lungs, and blood vessels to keep that oxygen pumping throughout the body - making it essential for our vascular and respiratory systems to work together.
Our cardiovascular system maintains our heartbeat and pumps oxygen and blood throughout the body. Controlled by our heart, the pathways for oxygen and blood include arteries, veins, and capillaries.
Our lungs control our respiratory system and help us breathe in air that contains oxygen which gets pumped to our muscles and organs to keep them functioning optimally.
Physical exertion strengthens both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems allowing us to take in and manage more oxygen, resulting in increased red blood cells and hemoglobin. Ultimately, this makes our heart stronger and able to pump greater volumes of blood throughout our body to distribute oxygen more efficiently. Hence we “get our blood pumping” when we perform cardio.
Benefits of cardiovascular endurance
Thousands of studies have demonstrated the positive impact of improving cardiovascular endurance on health. When we exert ourselves, push our heart rate to the limits, and break a sweat, we can feel the difference. Scientifically those benefits have been noted as:
- Improved brain function
- Reduction in body weight
- Improved circulation
- Reduction in (LDL and total) cholesterol
- Increase in (HDL) cholesterol
- Increase in exercise tolerance
- Improved strength and muscle function
- Increased bone health
- Lowered stress and anxiety
- Increased longevity
Examples of cardiovascular endurance exercises
Any exercise that raises the heart rate contributes to cardiovascular endurance. While having high cardiovascular endurance is imperative for marathon runners, it’s also beneficial for everyday activities. The intensity and time spent on the activity determine how much cardio endurance one can improve.
Cardio workouts include:
- Jump rope
- Jumping jacks
- Brisk walking
Using tart cherry and beetroot for rapid muscle recovery
Part of improving cardiovascular endurance is making sure to have the physical ability to push through on that next workout. Exercise causes inflammation in the muscles, as a way to signal to our body that it needs to start the repair process, but too much inflammation can lead to delayed recovery times. A study conducted by Oregon Health and Science University showed that runners who took tart cherry juice experienced less inflammation and faster recovery times.
Nitric oxide role in cardiovascular endurance
A significant component of pushing cardio fitness levels is the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently. When working to increase endurance levels, oxygen is one of the most significant limiting factors. Not getting enough oxygen to the body can diminish output. Nitric oxide boosting supports cell-to-cell communication and delivers oxygen and nutrients to organs throughout the body. It’s one of the biggest reasons athletes leverage nitrate-rich vegetables and juices to improve sports performance. Numerous studies show the benefit of nitric oxide boosting beetroot juice to help increase endurance and speed up recovery from intense exercise.
The great thing about nitric oxide and cardio is that the two give each other positive feedback. When we increase nitrate-rich foods in our diet, it helps us push longer and harder during workouts. When we push longer and harder during workouts, we also increase our nitric oxide levels.
How cardiovascular endurance is measure
There are both clinical and non-clinical methods for measuring cardiovascular endurance. The most common non-clinical way is measuring the heart rate. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics suggests subtracting your age from the number 220 and sustaining workouts at this heart rate level. Other non-clinical tests include the Cooper Test and Estimated Vo2Max (the max energy used during exercise).
Tests like the Vo2Max, ventilatory threshold, graded exercise, astrand treadmill, multistage bleep, 2.4 km run, and exercise electrocardiograph (ECG is done to assess the heart's response to stress or exercise) are often used in a clinical setting.
How to improve cardiovascular endurance
Improving cardiovascular endurance means pushing harder to reach a higher heart rate during exercise; consistency is vital to this effort. Working out 4-6 times every week at medium intensity for about 60 minutes, or 30 minutes for high intensity, and pushing a little harder each time to improve performance can help build that endurance. Adding in variations to the workout can also support these efforts.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA), weekly improvements on cardiovascular endurance can be made. The study showed that 60 minutes of vigorous walking or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking each week could improve cardiovascular fitness. However, slow or leisurely walking did not specifically contribute to endurance improvements.
Everyday cardiovascular endurance can be improved by using the cardiovascular endurance exercises listed above, practicing nitric oxide dumps, and maintaining a balanced diet. Eating foods rich in nitrate such as beets and red spinach is also highly beneficial to help pump that oxygen and drive extended periods of exertion. Whether training for a marathon or doing intense yard work, boosting nitric oxide levels can help improve cardiovascular endurance.
Jonathan Myers, Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. Originally published7 Jan 2003https://doi.org/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8DCirculation. 2003;107:e2–e5. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D.
Patel, H., Alkhawam, H., Madanieh, R., Shah, N., Kosmas, C. E., & Vittorio, T. J. (2017). Aerobic vs anaerobic exercise training effects on the cardiovascular system. World journal of cardiology, 9(2), 134–138. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v9.i2.134
Chapman Sandra, Aslan Sina, Spence Jeffrey, DeFina Laura, Keebler Molly, Didehbani Nyaz, Lu Hanzhang. Shorter term aerobic exercise improves brain, cognition, and cardiovascular fitness in aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. VOLUME 5, 2013. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnagi.2013.00075
Fletcher GF, Balady GJ, Amsterdam EA, et al. Exercise standards for testing and training: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001; 104: 1694–1740.
Anton, S. D., Duncan, G. E., Limacher, M. C., Martin, A. D., & Perri, M. G. (2011). How much walking is needed to improve cardiorespiratory fitness? An examination of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 82(2), 365–370. https://doi.org/10.1080/02701367.2011.10599766
Santana, J., Madureira, D., de França, E., Rossi, F., Rodrigues, B., Fukushima, A., Billaut, F., Lira, F., & Caperuto, E. (2019). Nitrate Supplementation Combined with a Running Training Program Improved Time-Trial Performance in Recreationally Trained Runners. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 7(5), 120. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports7050120
Barnard, N.D.; Goldman, D.M.; Loomis, J.F.; Kahleova, H.; Levin, S.M.; Neabore, S.; Batts, T.C. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients 2019, 11, 130. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010130
Beetroot juice and exercise: pharmacodynamic and dose-response relationships. Lee J. Wylie, James Kelly, Stephen J. Bailey, Jamie R. Blackwell, Philip F. Skiba, Paul G. Winyard, Asker E. Jeukendrup, Anni Vanhatalo, and Andrew M. Jones. Journal of Applied Physiology 2013115:3, 325-336 Thompson C, Wylie LJ, Fulford J, Kelly J, Black MI, McDonagh ST, Jeukendrup AE, Vanhatalo A, Jones AM. Dietary nitrate improves sprint performance and cognitive function during prolonged intermittent exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Sep;115(9):1825-34. doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3166-0.Epub 2015 Apr 7. PMID: 25846114.
Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, et al. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(1):43. Published 2017 Jan 6. doi:10.3390/nu9010043
University of Exeter. (2009, August 7). Beetroot Juice Boosts Stamina, New Study Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 30, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806141520.htm
Lansley, K. E., Winyard, P. G., Fulford, J., Vanhatalo, A., Bailey, S. J., Blackwell, J. R., DiMenna, F. J., Gilchrist, M., Benjamin, N., & Jones, A. M. (2011). Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 110(3), 591–600. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01070.2010
R Lanceley, M Ranchordas, A Ruddock. ISSSMC 2013 Conference Abstracts 008. EFFECTS OF DIETARY NITRATE SUPPLEMENTATION ON 5 KM RUNNING TIME TRIAL PERFORMANCE IN TRAINED FEMALE RUNNERS. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/47/17/e4.52