18 Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Cardiorespiratory fitness is defined as the ability to perform moderate- to high-intensity exercise for prolonged periods of time. To improve cardiorespiratory fitness, an individual needs to engage in physical activities that place demand on the circulatory and respiratory systems resulting in physiological adaptations. Over time, the body will adapt and be able to work more intensely and for a longer duration. Engaging in regular cardiorespiratory activities results in numerous physiological adaptations, such as decreased resting heart rate and improved VO2 max, as well as health benefits, such as decreased fatigue in daily activities and increased sense of well-being.
The cardiorespiratory system operates to obtain and circulate vital compounds throughout the body – specifically, oxygen, and nutrients such as food energy, vitamins, and minerals. Both oxygen and nutrients, which are imperative for cellular energy production, must be taken in from the lungs and digestive system. Because the heart and lungs are so interlocked in this process, the two systems are often labeled together as the cardiorespiratory system. Without a healthy respiratory system, the body would struggle to bring in enough oxygen, release carbon dioxide (the chemical waste product of cellular metabolism), and eliminate unwanted particles that enter the respiratory tract when inhaling. Without a healthy heart, transporting oxygen from the lungs and nutrients from the digestive system to the body’s cells would be impossible. If the health of the cardiorespiratory system were compromised enough, survival would be impossible. Additionally, both must be healthy or the function of one can compromise the other.
Exercise Prescription for Cardiorespiratory Fitness

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination each week. Although, the overarching recommendation is to aim for the recommended activity level but be as active as you are able.

The table below provides the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommendations to improve and maintain cardiorespiratory fitness.

FITT Principle Moderate Intensity Exercise Vigorous
Intensity Exercise
Combined Weight Loss
Frequency ≥ 5×/week ≥ 3×/week 3–5×/week 5–7×/week
Intensity 50–60% HRR,

60–75% MHR

≥ 60% HRR Moderate or Vigorous Moderate
Time ≥ 30 min/day ≥ 20 min/day ≥ 20 min/day 50–60 min/day
Type Aerobic Aerobic Aerobic Aerobic
Volume: ≥ 150 min/week ≥ 75 min/week ≥ 75 min/week 300 min/week

Types of Activities to Improve Cardiorespiratory Fitness

ACSM places cardiorespiratory activities into three groups categorized according to skill demands as outlined in the chart below. Skiing and snowboarding would fall into Group 3.

Skill Demands Cardiorespiratory Activities Training Effect on Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Group 1 Require very little skill and provide a constant intensity level. Jogging, running, walking,

cardio equipment

Generally, the most ideal for maintenance and improvement of cardiorespiratory fitness.
Group 2 Require more skill than Group 1 activities. The intensity is dependent on the skill of the individual. Swimming, aerobic dance, cycling on a real bicycle (not a stationary bike), skating, skiing Can be as effective as Group 1 activities for maintenance/improvement of cardiorespiratory fitness provided that the individual exercising is skilled enough in that activity to maintain the minimum exercise intensity.
Group 3 Incorporates a large variety of skill requirements and intensity levels. Generally, more fun than activities in Groups 1 and 2 and are good ways to make cardiorespiratory fitness more enjoyable. Basketball, soccer, racket sports Mostly effective for maintenance of cardiorespiratory fitness rather than improvement since there is less control over the intensity levels.


Dawn Markell & Diane Peterson, Health and Fitness for Life. MHCC Library Press. Sept 4, 2019. https://mhcc.pressbooks.pub/hpe295North Carolina State University Department of Health and Exercise Studies. Health and Exercise Wellbeing (8th.ed.). Plymouth, MI: Hayden McNeil.


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