What is cardiovascular endurance?

Cardiovascular endurance, or aerobic fitness, is how well your heart and lungs can supply the oxygen you need while you exercise at medium to high intensity. If you have good cardiovascular endurance, you can exercise at medium intensity for a long time (and high intensity for a while) before it makes you tired. This is because your body is able to keep getting the oxygen it needs during exercise.

Why is cardiovascular endurance important?

Strong cardiovascular endurance allows your body to move your blood efficiently so you can get more oxygen to your cells. This oxygen serves as an energy source to fuel the cells in your tissues and muscles.

Benefits of cardiovascular endurance

Cardiovascular endurance has many benefits, including:

  • Improving your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • Reducing your risk of many diseases, such as heart and blood vessel conditions.
  • Helping you live longer.
  • Strengthening your heart and lungs.
  • Helping you complete everyday tasks (like carrying a full laundry basket or climbing stairs) with less effort.
  • Improving brain function.
  • Increasing feelings of emotional well-being.
  • Improving your quality of life.

How do you measure cardiovascular endurance?

Using equipment made for this purpose, you can measure the estimated maximum amount of oxygen you consume with tests that involve:

  • Pedaling a stationary bike at different intensity levels.
  • Walking on a treadmill.
  • Running a set distance in a set amount of time.
  • Doing a shuttle run (this counts the number of times you can run between two points that are 20 meters or about 66 feet apart while keeping a certain pace).

The advantage of using the shuttle run is that it doesn’t require equipment. For the purposes of judging school teammates’ cardiovascular endurance, a coach can count how many times each student can run between the two set points.

What is a typical result for a cardiovascular endurance test?

Active young people may have a maximum oxygen consumption (use) of 35 to 50 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of weight per minute. Endurance athletes may use 70 to 85 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of weight per minute.

People who’ve had a stroke may only have a maximum oxygen consumption of 8 to 23 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of weight per minute. With modest aerobic exercise, they can improve this by 10% to 15%.

How to improve cardiovascular endurance

You can improve your cardiovascular endurance by doing activities that increase the amount of oxygen you breathe in. You can start with 10 to 15 minutes of cardiovascular endurance exercises a day. Then you can challenge your body a little at a time by adding a few minutes each day. (Adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week.)

In addition to adding more minutes, you can increase how far you walk or make it harder by raising the incline on your treadmill. All of these push your body harder and improve your cardiovascular endurance.

A study of children in elementary school found that they increased their cardiovascular endurance after they went to physical education class four times a week instead of twice a week.

Sprint interval training (SIT)

Multiple studies found people improved their cardiovascular endurance by 4% to 13.5% after two to eight weeks of sprint exercises. Three times a week, they pushed their hardest for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. They repeated this three to seven times with two to five minutes to recover between sprints.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

This type of exercise adds brief times of high-intensity activity between periods of lower-intensity activity. A study found that HIIT improved people’s cardiovascular endurance by 38% to 79%.

What are cardiovascular endurance exercises?

Exercises that improve your cardiovascular endurance make you breathe in more oxygen and make your heart rate go up. Examples of cardiovascular endurance activities include:

  • Swimming.
  • Riding a bike.
  • Dancing.
  • Jogging.
  • Walking.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Climbing stairs.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

No matter what age you are, you can improve your cardiovascular endurance. Ask a healthcare provider to help you make a plan to boost your cardiovascular endurance. You’ll feel better and have an easier time with everyday tasks. Start slowly and stick with it to see the best results.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/21/2023.


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