Cardio heart zones are, essentially, levels of exertion as measured based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate. Many wearable fitness devices and apps can easily measure this for you, such as the Zones app for the Apple Watch.

Knowing which cardio zone to target when you engage in cardiovascular activity will ensure your workout is effective and safe. It can also help you judge the intensity of your workout and keep you on track toward your goals. In this article, we outline the five cardio zones so you can choose the one that makes sense for you.

What are the five cardio zones?

Cardio Zone 1

This zone is when you’re performing a very gentle and leisurely activity, such as yoga or light stretching or walking. It typically involves working at about 57% (or less) of your maximum heart rate and you will not work up a sweat at this level.

Cardio Zone 2

This second cardio zone, which falls between 57 and 63% of your maximum heart rate, is the most beneficial. This zone involves moderate movement that you can perform comfortably for 30-60 minutes. You’ll likely break a good sweat, but will not feel wiped out.

Working in zone 2 cardio has many health benefits including improved heart health, enhanced brain health, and reduced risk of age-related diseases.

Cardio Zone 3

The third zone involves vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, and it is about 64-76% of your maximum heart rate. In the zone 3 cardio, you’ll find it’s challenging to maintain a conversation.

Cardio Zone 4

The fourth zone, which falls between 77 and 95% of your maximum heart rate can be reached through activities like high-intensity-interval-training (HIIT). Though it does offer benefits for some people, this type of training can cause muscle damage and is also more likely to lead to DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), which means there is a higher risk of exercise-related injuries. Zoze 4 cardio can also be reached more safely by using a rowing erg.

Cardio Zone 5

Zone 5 is maximum effort. This is performing the 100-meter sprint, all-out. At Nielsen Fitness, we don’t advise this cardio zone. It’s usually reserved for elite athletes; for weekend warriors or the average person, the risks far outweigh the benefits. So our advice, is to stay away from a zone 5 cardio heart zone.

What Cardio Zone is Best?

Typically if you are 50 plus and you are training for endurance; which includes a healthy long-life full of vitality, the Nielsen Fitness team recommends aiming for Cardio Zone 2, which is fantastic for improving metabolism and breaking down fat. It’s also less likely to result in injury.

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