What does cardiorespiratory endurance mean? 5 exercises that can help

Medically reviewed by Anisha Shah, MD

Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of your heart and lungs to work efficiently to deliver oxygen to working muscles during sustained physical activity. Cardiorespiratory endurance is an important indicator of physical health and is one of the main components of fitness. Cardiorespiratory endurance is important during exercise and is necessary for daily tasks such as housework, walking, and going up and down stairs.

This article will discuss the benefits of cardiorespiratory endurance and types of exercise.

What does it mean to have cardiorespiratory endurance?

Good cardiorespiratory endurance means that your cardiorespiratory system, which consists of your heart, lungs and blood vessels, is able to work efficiently to pump oxygenated blood to your muscles during exercise. Muscles can only contract in the absence of oxygen for short periods of time during anaerobic exercise, such as short bouts of weightlifting.

When muscles have to contract for long periods of time, they rely on an adequate supply of oxygen during aerobic exercise or physical activity. Good cardiorespiratory endurance means that your body is able to deliver enough oxygen to your muscles during physical activity, so that your muscles continue to work without discomfort and you don’t feel out of breath.


Good cardiorespiratory endurance is a sign of a healthy body that functions as it should to support the demands of daily activities and exercise. Good cardiorespiratory endurance provides several benefits to the body, including:

  • Improved heart function and lower resting heart rate

  • Improved lung function and breathing

  • Improved oxygen supply throughout the body

  • Improved circulation

  • Reduced blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides

  • Reducing inflammation throughout the body

  • Reduced risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke

  • Increased ease with daily activities and movements such as walking and climbing stairs

These benefits are applicable to everyone, but are especially beneficial for older adults, those with heart or lung disease, and postmenopausal women, as cardiorespiratory endurance is reduced in these populations.


Cardiorespiratory endurance can be measured either directly with maximal exercise tests or indirectly with submaximal exercise tests. Maximal exercise tests include measuring the amount of gas inhaled and exhaled, your blood pressure and heart rate, as well as the heart’s electrical activity.

The main maximal exercise test is the cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET), which measures inhaled and exhaled gases as participants exercise with increasing difficulty.

Submaximal exercise tests are easier to perform in a variety of environments without equipment and use equations to estimate cardiorespiratory endurance. Submaximal exercise tests include:

  • 20 meter running test: Participants run between two points that are 20 meters apart while in sync with audio signals that increase in frequency.

  • Run the tests: Participants run a certain distance as fast as possible.

  • Six-minute walk test: Participants walk as far as possible in six minutes.

  • Step test: Participants walk up and down the block, progressing through stages where the step rate increases.

Examples of cardiorespiratory endurance exercises

Exercises that improve your cardiorespiratory endurance include any type of activity that involves continuous movement and muscle contraction over a long period of time. Examples of cardiorespiratory endurance exercises include walking, running, jogging, hiking, cycling, dancing, and swimming.

Daily tasks such as vacuuming, mopping, sweeping, and yard work such as raking leaves, shoveling snow, or mowing grass rely on cardiorespiratory endurance.

According to the recommendations of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, adults should engage in regular weekly physical activity according to the following guidelines:

  • 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity

  • 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity

  • An equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity

Exercise intensity is grouped into the following categories:

  • Light intensity: light walking, cooking, light housework

  • Moderate intensity: Brisk walking (2.44.0 mph), biking (59 mph), dancing, active yoga, recreational swimming, gardening, vacuuming, raking leaves

  • Strong intensity: jogging, running, hiking, biking (more than 10 miles per hour), swimming laps, jumping rope, aerobics, weight lifting, stair climbing, snow removal

Take away

Exercises that involve cardiorespiratory endurance are often simply called cardio.

Learn more: How many minutes should a teenager exercise a day?

Exercises to improve cardiorespiratory endurance: walking

Walking is one of the most accessible cardiorespiratory endurance exercises that can be performed almost anywhere. Aim to walk for at least 1520 minutes to get your heart and lungs moving. To add intensity, you can incorporate inclines by walking uphill to increase the amount of work your heart and lungs are doing to deliver oxygen to your working muscles.

Exercises to improve cardiorespiratory endurance: jogging

If you like a slightly faster pace, jogging can help improve your cardiorespiratory endurance. Because your body is moving faster than walking, jogging requires more cardiorespiratory endurance to keep you going. Start slow and short. Gradually increase speed and/or distance over time.

Exercises to improve cardiorespiratory endurance: swimming

Swimming is an excellent choice for improving your cardiorespiratory endurance because it is a full-body exercise that involves both the upper and lower body. Swimming is also a great option because the buoyancy of the water helps take pressure off sore joints, which can make exercise easier.

Exercises to improve cardiorespiratory endurance: cycling

Cycling is another great option to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, especially if you have sore joints as this type of exercise is non-weight bearing. You can use a standard bike outdoors or a stationary bike indoors. To increase the intensity of your workout, try cycling uphill or increasing the resistance on a stationary bike.

Exercises to improve cardiorespiratory endurance: dance

Dancing is a fun way to incorporate cardiorespiratory endurance exercise into your day. You can dance to your favorite songs or take a group class like Zumba for a full body workout.

Take away

Chronic pain can make exercise more challenging. Choosing low-intensity exercise, such as walking, can help make exercise more manageable. For chronic joint pain, non-weight-bearing exercises such as stationary cycling can help relieve discomfort with standing activities.

Exercise adaptations for people with metabolic disease

Exercise is especially important to help people manage metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Exercise and regular physical activity can help control blood sugar levels to prevent diabetes from worsening and reduce the risk of comorbidities. Exercise has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol, body weight and hemoglobin A1c in people with type 2 diabetes.

Because exercise affects blood sugar levels, people with diabetes should be careful to monitor their blood sugar before, during, and after exercise to prevent hypoglycemia when their blood sugar drops too low. Eating before exercise and keeping a quick supply of glucose on hand, such as glucose tablets, honey or juice, can help prevent a dangerous drop in blood sugar with exercise.

Read next: Creating an exercise plan for type 2 diabetes

People with diabetes or other chronic conditions should always work with their health care providers to make sure they are healthy enough to start exercising. Whenever you start a new exercise program, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of physical activity over time.


Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of your heart and lungs to work efficiently to deliver oxygen to working muscles during sustained physical activity. Good cardiorespiratory endurance can improve heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and heart and lung function. It can also reduce the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke and make daily activities easier.

Exercises that improve your cardiorespiratory endurance include sustained activity for long periods of time, including walking, running, jogging, hiking, cycling, dancing and swimming. Before starting any new exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to exercise.

Read the original article about Verivell Health.

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