Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best ways to burn calories, get in shape, and stay healthy. Most people associate cardio with boring gym bikes and tedious treks on the treadmill. However, there are plenty of enjoyable and exciting ways to elevate your heart rate, work up a sweat, and melt fat while doing fun things that are physically challenging and personally rewarding!
Break up your stale and unstimulating fitness routine. Below are ten fun, unique, and invigorating cardiovascular exercise ideas that can breathe new life into your otherwise mundane cardio workouts. Try the exercises, follow the advice, and push yourself to do your best to see new and impressive fitness results. Calorie estimates based on different body weights and intensity levels are included to help keep you motivated and informed in your new cardio endeavors. Best of all, you’ll never have to jog, bike, or use a treadmill for cardio ever again.
Jumping rope is a great minimalist cardio exercise that most of us learned growing up. A simple piece of rope and some good sneakers can provide hours of heart-pounding and fat-burning fun. Bodybuilders, boxers, and ballplayers all jump rope to prepare for games and competitions, and it’s no surprise that fit and active children always gravitate toward this fun and exhilarating cardiovascular activity.
Find a jump rope that fits your height and begin slowly. As you get better, try different step variations and challenge yourself to jump rope longer and more consistently without messing up.
Calories burned in a half-hour: 220-500
Rollerblading is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that is recently experiencing a comeback. It requires some skill and effort to become proficient, but it’s worth learning if you want to enjoy the cardiovascular benefits, smooth gentle movement, and the fun and exhilarating feeling of rolling around your neighborhood.
An inexpensive set of rollerblades and some protective equipment are all you need to get started. Keep your feet at shoulder width with your toes pointed slightly out and push off of one leg as you gracefully start rolling onto the other. Rollerblading is a pleasant, relaxing, and invigorating cardio exercise that also has the added benefit of making you look cool while you do it!
Calories burned in a half hour: 310-500
Swimming is great not only for cardiovascular exercise, but also to build and tone healthy muscle. Swimming requires the constant effort of your whole body and all your muscles to move gracefully through the water. Because of this sustained stimulus, swimming consumes a lot of calories and is a highly effective way to burn fat while learning a fun and useful skill. Any swim stroke or style can provide an excellent cardiovascular workout, and it’s gentle on your joints and body.
If you’re not a great swimmer, stay in the shallow end as you build your skills. Using a kickboard, practicing your strokes, and even just moving around in the resistance of the water are all great ways to get some quality cardio exercise while enjoying the fun feeling and soothing sensation of being in the pool.
Calories burned in a half hour: 180-420
It doesn’t matter what kind of ball game you like – just play it enthusiastically and you’ll see your sweat, fat, and calories start evaporating. Tennis, basketball, soccer, or any ball sport that requires running and moving is a great way to get cardio exercise while doing something you already love.
Playing competitively against a team or a partner will challenge you to move more and breathe harder, but you can also find ways to train by yourself and stay challenged. Run, don’t walk, after taking a shot, stay on your feet instead of taking a break, and find training methods that force you to keep moving to get the most effective cardiovascular benefits while playing your favorite ball sport. If you lack equipment or facilities, you can simply throw a rubber ball against a building and chase it down as it bounces. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it in a vigorous and sustained manner and you’ll soon be huffing and puffing your way into some impressive fat loss and fun cardiovascular benefits.
Calories burned in a half hour: 100-500
Martial arts may sound intimidating, but they don’t need to be. The flurry of kicks, punches, and throws you need to master while training any martial art, combat sport, or self-defense system provides a perfect cardiovascular workout that also teaches you confidence, discipline, and self-protection.
Taking a martial arts class is the best way to learn foundational skills, but classes can sometimes be slow and focus more on instruction and group practice. For the best cardio results, either find a similarly skilled training partner or gain access to training equipment so you can engage in focused, high-intensity cardio whenever you want. Kicking and punching a bag, shadowboxing, or even grappling with a heavy training dummy are all emotionally cathartic ways to practice your moves while also enjoying the benefits of intensive cardiovascular training.
Calories burned in a half hour: 300-420
Jumping jacks, push-ups, mountain climbers, dips, pull-ups, walking lunges, crunches, back extensions, arm circles, squats, calf raises, and bodyweight exercises are all great calisthenics exercises that provide your entire body with fun and spirited cardiovascular training.
Calisthenics are simple athletic movement exercises designed to improve your strength and cardio abilities mostly by using your own body weight for resistance. Try some of the basic moves listed above, research new ideas, or come up with your own routines. As long as you’re moving, sweating, and feeling your heart beat you’re getting an effective cardiovascular and calisthenic workout.
Calories burned in a half hour: 130-340
Plyometrics are a more intensive form of calisthenics that incorporate powerful and dynamic movements, usually involving jumping. Plyometrics force you to move fast and train hard, which is great for your muscular strength as well as your cardiovascular fitness. Focus on stretching and quickly (but safely) contracting your muscles when performing plyometrics. You’ll promptly notice yourself breathing hard, expending energy, and burning plenty of calories.
Most calisthenic, strength, and cardiovascular exercises can be performed in a plyometric fashion for increased training intensity. For example, instead of performing a basic bodyweight squat, try going down into the squat and then quickly jumping up off the ground. Similarly, when performing a push-up, lower yourself down all the way and then push as hard as you can so your torso gets lifted into the air. When doing lunges, jump in place and alternate which foot is forward and which foot is behind you. Practice your rollerblading skills while wearing shoes by jumping laterally from one foot to the next. Improve your martial art skills by punching and kicking as powerfully as you can, or by throwing your training dummy, medicine ball, or sandbag as far as your strength allows. Any basic movement down with maximum speed, force, and intensity can become a dynamic and highly challenging plyometric movement.
Calories burned in a half hour: 145-390
Run ladders for training drills that are also extremely fun, creative, and effective cardiovascular exercises. You can buy training ladders at most fitness stores, or you can simply draw a row of ten to twelve one-foot by one-foot connected boxes on the ground with chalk. The boxes are only for reference; your task is to get from one side to the other while putting your feet in the boxes in the quickest and most elaborate ways possible. If it seems like a high-performance game of hopscotch, that’s because it is!
Put one foot in each box, two feet in each box, forwards, backwards, sideways, jumping, skipping, alternating directions, pivoting, twisting, or in any other way you choose. There’s no limit to the number of clever combinations you can come up with as you improve your cardiovascular fitness with your fast and fancy footwork.
Calories burned in a half hour: 140-380
If you enjoyed the ladder training, you may also have fun creating an obstacle course as part of your cardio workout. Obstacle courses force you to run, jump, climb, crawl, roll, and move any way you can to get from one spot to another while traversing a series of challenges. The amount of twisting, turning, and calorie burning your body has to do will quickly get your heart beating and your skin sweating as you complete an intense cardiovascular workout while having fun and increasing your agility and coordination.
You don’t need special equipment to create your own cardio obstacle course. Chairs, buckets, tables, lawn chairs, tools, furniture, rocks, logs, hoses – all of these items can force you to improvise and think creatively to come up with a series of hurdles, checkpoints, and other physical challenges that will motivate you to pursue your cardiovascular goals with enthusiasm and an ever-changing series of trials.
Calories burned in a half hour: 140-390
It may sound silly, but dancing is actually a great form of stress relief and cardiovascular exercise. For those who love parties and group fitness classes, this is great news! For those who are more reserved, rest assured that you can always dance at home with no one watching (with the added benefit of you controlling the music).
It doesn’t matter if you’re at a party, bar, gym, neighborhood barbecue, or your living room. Skill is not important, just your desire to move and shake to the tunes. Headphones, stereos, YouTube, television programs, and even video games can provide you with great upbeat music and even some ideas about how to prance, pirouette, and party your way into powerful fat-burning and hip-turning cardiovascular exercise. Try different styles of music and dance moves, and don’t be afraid to breathe, sweat, groove, and shuffle like no one’s watching!
Calories burned in a half hour: 160-260
The key to an effective cardiovascular workout is to find stimulating ways to move, sweat, and breathe hard; and the key to doing that often is to find ways to enjoy it. The more often and the more intensely you perform these workouts, the more fun and refreshment you’ll experience as you pump your heart, burn calories, torch away fat, and get into fantastic cardiovascular shape while also enjoying yourself and having fun in the process.
“Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights.” Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publishing, July, 2004