Heart and Vascular

Building a strong heart through cardiovascular endurance

Woman stretching on the ground


By M. Zubair Jafar, MD

You want to run a 5K but don’t think you have the stamina for it, so you quit before you even get started. This is not uncommon but there is a solution – building your cardiovascular endurance.

Improving one’s cardiovascular endurance takes effort, but it is not impossible. Start with 10 to 15 minutes of brisk walking a day, for example, and increase your time and distance slowly. Small steps will go a long way toward maintaining a healthy heart and strong cardiovascular system, the building blocks for overall well-being and longevity.

What is cardiovascular endurance?

Cardiovascular endurance refers to the ability of the heart, lungs and circulatory system to supply oxygen and nutrients to the muscles during prolonged periods of exercise. Regular cardiovascular training strengthens the heart, increases lung capacity, improves blood circulation and enhances the body’s ability to utilize oxygen efficiently.

Cardiovascular endurance is often measured by the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during exercise, known as VO2 max. The higher the VO2 max, the more efficiently the body can transport oxygen to the muscles, allowing individuals to sustain physical activity for extended periods of time.


Learn more about Sports Cardiology at Nuvance Health


Strategies to improve cardiovascular endurance

Aerobic exercise:
Engaging in aerobic activities such as jogging, swimming, cycling or dancing for at least 150 minutes per week can significantly improve cardiovascular endurance. Start gradually and increase intensity and duration over time. Remember to consult with a physician before starting any exercise regimen.

Interval training:
Incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT), short bursts of intense exercise, into your routine can enhance cardiovascular fitness. Alternating between these short bursts and recovery periods challenges the heart and trains it to pump blood efficiently.

: Including a variety of activities in your exercise regimen helps engage different muscle groups and prevents injuries. Mixing cardio exercises, strength training and flexibility workouts creates a well-rounded fitness routine.

Consistency and progression
: Consistency is key to improving cardiovascular endurance. Gradually increase exercise duration, intensity or frequency to challenge your cardiovascular system and continue making progress.

Proper nutrition and hydration
: Fueling your body with a balanced diet rich in lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables provides the necessary nutrients for optimal cardiovascular health. Hydration is also essential for maintaining blood volume and circulation.

Listen to your body
: Pay attention to signs of fatigue, discomfort or pain during exercise. Strike a balance between pushing your limits and avoiding overexertion or injury. Consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or pre-existing medical conditions.


What are heart rate zones?

Zones 1 through 5 are heart rate ranges used to customize cardiovascular training and your specific goals. Each zone corresponds to a percentage range of an individual’s maximum heart rate (MHR). To estimate your MHR, subtract your age from 220.

Zone 1 (50-60% MHR):
This zone is often referred to as the “recovery zone“ and is ideal for beginners or individuals recovering from intense workouts. Training in Zone 1 promotes active recovery, aids in fat metabolism and enhances cardiovascular health without placing excessive stress on the body. Exercises in Zone 1 include nature walks and restorative yoga.

Zone 2 (60-70% MHR):
Training in this zone improves aerobic endurance and is ideal for building a solid cardiovascular foundation. It enhances fat burning, strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to utilize oxygen efficiently. Most endurance training falls within this zone. Exercises in Zone 2 may include a 30-to-60-minute jog or stationary rowing.

Zone 3 (70-80% MHR):
Referred to as the “tempo zone,” this zone improves lactate threshold, which is the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in the muscles. Training in Zone 3 increases the body’s ability to tolerate and clear lactic acid, delaying muscle fatigue and improving overall endurance.

Zone 4 (80-90% MHR):
Known as the “anaerobic zone,” training in this zone improves speed, power and anaerobic capacity. Workouts in Zone 4 challenge the cardiovascular system, increase maximal oxygen uptake and enhance overall performance. These high-intensity intervals should be performed with caution and only by individuals with a solid fitness base.

Zone 5 (90-100% MHR):
Called the “red line zone,” zone 5 is maximum effort that you should not engage in for more than one to three minutes. Peppering zone 5 efforts into your workouts, including pushing a sled fast or rope slams, will improve your stamina and build strength. 


Benefits of cardiovascular endurance

Improved heart health:
Engaging in activities that boost cardiovascular endurance strengthens the heart muscle, enhances its efficiency and lowers the resting heart rate, reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.

Enhanced stamina and energy levels:
Regular aerobic exercise, such as running, swimming or cycling, improves endurance capacity, allowing individuals to perform daily tasks with less fatigue and increased energy levels.

Weight management:
Cardiovascular exercises are effective in burning calories, losing weight and maintaining a healthy body composition.

Mental well-being:
Cardiovascular exercise releases endorphins. This results in reduced stress, anxiety and depression while promoting better sleep and overall mental well-being.

At Nuvance Health, we have a sports cardiology program designed to help both seasoned competitors and weekend warriors reach their athletic goals. Participants are given a thorough physical, as well as a cardiovascular assessment to determine their target heart rate for optimal training and competition. While this option may not be for everyone, incorporating cardiovascular endurance into your fitness regimen should be.

Consistent physical activity coupled with a balanced diet and lifestyle, can benefit heart health, boost energy levels and improve overall well-being. A strong heart can uncover new levels of endurance you never knew you had and will have lasting benefits.

M. Zubair Jafar, MD

Dr. Jafar is a cardiologist with Nuvance Health and the director of the sports cardiology program at The Heart Center, a division of Hudson Valley Cardiovascular Practice, P.C., which is part of Nuvance Health Medical Practice.