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MASTER CLASS: Household chores can be cardiovascular exercise

by Matt Parrott | December 14, 2020 at 1:44 a.m.
Hannah Pinkston demonstrates the Squatting Arm Ergometer exercise at the AARP FitLot in Murray Park for Master Class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storeyy

The most popular form of cardiovascular exercise has always been running. It's an activity that children become familiar with at an early age, and it quickly becomes their preferred mode of transportation from point A to point B. Some people never lose that passion, but others gravitate toward alternate forms of cardiovascular exercise.

This week, I'll explore some of my favorite "nonrunning" forms of cardio and will introduce an exercise that demonstrates the versatility of cardiovascular workouts.

The aerobic energy-generating process is generally defined by long, sustained bouts of activity that raises the heart rate. During cardiovascular exercise, the heart pumps quickly to transport oxygen throughout the body and into the working muscles. If I examine the most literal translation of the definition, I quickly realize that "aerobic training" has very little to do with the activity selected, and everything to do with the intensity and duration of the workout.

Using this philosophy, it's possible to turn almost any physical activity into a cardiovascular workout.

The key is to raise the heart rate, extend the duration, remove any significant rest intervals. Swimming and biking are some obvious choices due to their repetitive nature, but activities like shoveling snow or raking leaves also can fit the definition of cardiovascular exercise.

As someone who isn't particularly fond of running, I enjoy all sorts of cardiovascular exercise options. There's something about getting work done while achieving a cardiovascular workout that appeals to my sense of efficiency. Washing the car, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges are just a few examples of household activities that I turn into workouts.

The easiest way to transform a project into a workout is to wear a heart rate monitor. It's not easy to elevate the heart rate to a point that can be considered "cardiovascular," but the lower limit of the cardiovascular range is generally considered to be about 60% of one's maximum heart rate. To calculate maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. As a 44-year-old, my maximum heart rate is 176 beats per minute, so I multiply that by 60% and arrive at a lower limit of 106 bpm.

So, my goal is to get my heart pumping at least 106 beats per minute — that's all it takes for my activity to qualify as a light cardiovascular workout. Wearing a heart rate monitor helps me understand what 106 beats per minute feels like in terms of workout intensity, and it's particularly useful for household work and other nontraditional forms of physical exercise.

This week's exercise is a nontraditional cardiovascular exercise. The Squatting Arm Ergometer is an alternative for those who might have a lower body injury or simply prefer to use their upper body.

1. Stand in front of the arm ergometer device, aka "handcycler," and squat down until the handles are even with your chest. The amount of squat will be different for each person based on his or her height.

2. Bend the knees and hips, then grasp the handles of the arm ergometer and "pedal" them by moving the handles in a circular motion for 60 seconds without stopping.

3. Perform four sets of 60 seconds with only 10 seconds rest in between sets.

The arm ergometer is a cool piece of equipment that is available at some city playgrounds — such as the AARP FitLot at Murray Park in Little Rock — and it's a relatively inexpensive piece of home equipment, for those interested.

I enjoy it because it really drives blood flow to the arms and shoulders while elevating heart rate and challenging the upper body muscles. Now, let's get to work!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.


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