Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is any vigorous activity that increases the heart rate and oxygenated blood flow. It is a key component to a healthy lifestyle and the most effective way to burn calories, especially when used in combination with weight training. Almost everyone can benefit from some form of cardiovascular exercise, though it’s important to talk with your doctor about what types are best for you. If you’re new to exercising, start with lower intensity options for short durations and work your way up to 30 minutes a day at least three days a week. This should result in measurable improvement to your cardiovascular endurance within eight to 12 weeks.

In addition to burning calories, cardio exercises can help strengthen muscles and improve balance. When done regularly, cardiovascular exercises can reduce your risk for certain diseases, boost your mental health, and increase longevity. Cardiovascular workouts can even make everyday activities like walking, climbing the stairs or playing catch with your dog feel easier, and they can help you sleep better and manage stress.

Getting a good cardio workout is simple: just find something you enjoy enough to stick with. That might mean taking up jogging, going for an easy bike ride or hopping on the treadmill, but it also might mean trying out new things like yoga, rowing, swimming, dancing or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

It doesn’t matter what you do—even if it’s just a walk around the block—as long as the effort is sustained and your heart rate is up, says fitness trainer Jason Jonesco. You’re at a moderate intensity level when you can sustain your activity without gasping for air, and you should be able to speak in full sentences, he adds. You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying that number by 0.6.

The best cardio machines may depend on your individual needs and goals, but there are some standouts that will take you from a quick jog to a heart-pumping sprint in no time. For example, if you’re dealing with knee pain, an exercise bike is usually easier on the joints than a treadmill, and some models can even connect to online spin classes or group workouts for extra motivation.

The best machine overall, however, is the one that you can use consistently and comfortably. That might mean scouting out your local gym for some equipment, or buying a piece for your home. We’ve rounded up the top picks based on effectiveness (how well they burn calories and improve cardiovascular endurance); functionality (how easily the machine crosses over to daily activities); and availability at your local gym or health club. cardio fitness

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