Feeling confident and looking good enough to hit the beach in a bikini or rock that fitted dress at your next reunion are nice consequences of consistent cardio exercise. The real benefit of regularly hitting the machines is improved heart health that can keep you free of chronic disease and extend your life. Gyms offer multiple cardiovascular options for getting your workout done, two of the most common being the treadmill and the recumbent bike. Both can help you fulfill the minimum exercise needs to keep your heart healthy; which one you choose really depends on your limitations and preferences.
Recommendations for Heart Health
A 2003 issue of the journal "Circulation" attributed as many as 250,000 deaths per year to lack of physical activity. Active and fit people are less likely to develop coronary heart disease, and if they do, it occurs much later in life than for people who are not active. The 1996 release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Institutes of Health to make a coordinated declaration that 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most or all days of the week provides signficant benefits to the heart. Your heart doesn't care if you use a recumbent bicycle or a treadmill to achieve this amount of physical activity -- it only notices when you don't try at all.
You can rock a moderate intensity on the treadmill or the recumbent bike. A pace of 3 to 4 mph on the treadmill counts as moderate intensity, but you'll have to go faster on the recumbent bicycle for an equivalent workout. Exactly how fast you go to reach moderate intensity on either machine really depends on your fitness level. Use the Borg Scale of perceived exertion to rate your level of difficulty. You evaluate how you feel while exercising on a scale of 1 to 20, with 1 through 6 being no effort at all and 17 through 20 being very hard to all-out effort. You should feel like you are working at a 12 to 14 to achieve a moderate intensity level. You can also wear a heart rate monitor to evaluate your intensity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a heart rate between 50 and 70 percent of maximum moderate intensity.
Recumbent Bike Pros and Cons
A recumbent bike can be a gentler form of exercise for people with joint or balance problems. Recumbent bikes also feature bucket-style seats and handlebars that are level with the shoulders, making it more comfortable for your back and upper body than treadmill exercise. The Cleveland Clinic notes that any type of cycling is usually a more comfortable exercise form for people who are more than 50 pounds overweight. If you fall into a fitter crowd, though, a recumbent bike could be too tame for you. You can increase the resistance against which you pedal with the simple push of a button, but some people might have trouble getting their heart rate high enough for it to count as a true heart-boosting session.
Opting for a Treadmill
You can walk or jog on a treadmill, which makes it easier to increase your intensity as you become more fit. The incline of the treadmill is also adjustable, so even if you don't want to walk faster, you can increase the intensity by tackling a hill or two during your workout. Reading on a treadmill is challenging, especially if you are going at a pace fast enough to raise your heart rate, but you can watch television or listen to tunes to pass the time.
- Cleveland Clinic: What is the Best Type of Aerobic Exercise?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale)
- Circulation: Exercise and Cardiovascular Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.