Strength and Fitness - The Impartial Guide to strength, fitness, endurance and nutrition

Exercise Guidelines

Current Cardiovascular Exercise Guidelines

  • The Health Education (HEA) guidelines recommends that individuals should perform at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on 5 days a week.
  • The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines recommend that individuals should perform at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on 3 or more days a week.

Defining Activity levels:

  • Light Activity - Requires only a low level of exertion and does not cause a significant rise in heart rate or breathing.  Examples: walking at a slow pace, gentle gardening, and housework etc.
  • Moderate Activity - A moderate level of activity is one that causes a noticeable increase in both your breathing rate and heart rate - your heart rate should rise to between 50-70% of maximum heart rate. The intensity should feel harder than light/low intensity exercise but you should still be able to talk or carry on a conversation. Examples of moderate intensity activities include: brisk walking, easy jogging, leisurely swimming, cycling.
  • Vigorous Activity - a vigorous level of activity is one that causes your heart rate to increase to around 80-90% of maximum heart. At this level your breathing rate should significantly increase, making it hard to say more than a few short words at a time. Most people can only train for short periods at these intensities and it is often recommended that interval training is a most effective way to train at these intensities

Both of these recommendations will lead to improvements in physical fitness. However, since it is clear that a higher training intensity has a more significant effect on physical fitness than a lower exercise level, it would seem wise to follow the ACSM guidelines. Research supports the the ACSM guidelines of training at an intensity of approximately 70% maxHR (Hollman et al., 1981; Wenger and Bell 1986; Woolf-May et al., 1997) and a training frequency of at least 3 days a week (Roskamm, H. 1967; Bouchard et al., 1980; Hollman et al., 1981; Wenger and Bell 1986; Woolf-may et al., 1997). However, research seems to demonstrate that individual training sessions should be of a longer duration than 20mins, with graeter benefits occuring when training sessions last >35-40minutes (Hollman et al., 1981; Wenger and Bell, 1986; McArdle et al., 1996).

Based on the research makes the following recommendations with regards to cardiovascular training for improving physical fitness:

  • Training intensity should be performed in the region of 70-90% of max HR unless there is a medical reason not to do this (i.e. High blood pressure, heart disease etc.)
  • Training frequency should be a minimum of 3 times per week but ideally 5 times per week
  • Training volume should be approximately 40 minutes per session.

 Exercise guidelines references:

Bouchard, C., Boulay, M., Thibault, M. C., Carrier, R. and Dulac, S. (1980) Training of submaximal working capacity: frequency, intensity, duration, and their interactions. Journal of Sports Medicine. 20, 29-40.

Hollmann, W., Rost, R., Liesen, H., Dufaux, B., Heck, H. and Mader, A. (1981) Assessment of Different Forms of Physical Activity with Respect to Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiology. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2, 67-80.

McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., and Katch, V. L. (1996) Exercise Physiology: Energy, nutrition, and human performance, 4th Edition. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore, USA.

Roskamm, H. (1967) Optimum patterns of exercise for healthy adult. Canadian Medical Association. 96, 895-900.

Treiber, F. a., Musante, L., Hartdagan, S., Davis, H., Levy, M. and Strong, W. B. (1989) Validation of a heart rate monitor with children in laboratory and field settings. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 21, (3), 338-342.

Wenger, H. A. and Bell, G. J. (1986) The Interactions of Intensity, Frequency and Duration of Exercise Training in Altering Cardiorespiratory Fitness. Sports Medicine. 1, 346-356.

Woolf-May, K., Bird, S. and Owen, Andrew. (1997) Effects of an 18 week walking programme on cardiac function inpreviously sedentary or relatively inactive adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 31, 1, 48-53.