That you can control your own intensity level for aerobics and resistance training in contributing to a healthy heart?

By: John Sawdon Director of Education & Special Projects, Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada


This is the third article outlining the benefits of Aerobics and Resistance training in managing and preventing cardiovascular disease. We have explored the research that contributes to the literature on the benefits of physical exercise along with benefits of aerobic and resistance training. This article will now provide you with the means to both understand and establish the intensity level for aerobics and resistance training. I have also provided access to excellent exercise guidebooks that will help you design your individual program along with completing a medical questionnaire should you need this in getting an exercise prescription from your Doctor.

How much exercise should I do?

Most recommendations for exercise are for a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise daily and if just starting out doing increments of ten minutes three times a day. The American College for Sports Medicine, the Canadian Society for Exercise Professionals (CSEP) and the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (3) all recommend that adults between 18 to 64 years should accumulate 30 to 60 minutes daily for a cumulative total of 150 minutes a week. For those committed to interval training participants could try walking at a rate of 3.5 miles per hour for five minutes and then increasing to 3.8 miles per hour for three minutes and then back to 3.5 miles for five minutes. The recommendation is for 20 to 60 minutes a day of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise for a cumulative total of 75 to 150 minutes a week.

Drawing on the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association’s “Exercise Is Medicine” prescription using the FITT pro model, we encourage you to use these guidelines in determining how often and how intensely you should engage in exercise as follows:

F stands for Frequency - The recommendation is to exercise Five days a week

I stand for Intensity - The recommendation is moderate to vigorous intensity. Heart rate should reach 50 to 70% of recommended maximum rate for your age. (The maximum predicted heart rate /MPHR = 220 minus your age)

T stands for Type of exercise - Any exercise that works the large muscle group, increases your heart rate and causes light perspiration is the goal. A good regime or schedule includes aerobics 3 to 5 days a week, (brisk walking, jogging, cycling, treadmill, swimming and/or aqua fit) as well as 2 to 3 days of resistance exercise or whole body strength training per week.

T stands for Time - The recommendation is 30 minutes a day. The Canadian recommendation for moderate to vigorous exercise is 150 minutes a week.

Pro stands for progression - If your goal is a 10-minute session three times a day for a cumulative total of 30 minutes a day, do that for one week. Once you have achieved this goal then increase your sessions to 15 minutes three times a day for five days or 225 minutes a week.
The goal set by Exercise Is Medicine is 200 minutes per week

Identifying your Ideal Rate of Intensity and Heart Rate during aerobic and resistance training
The FITT principle and the guidelines for exercising identify intensity and heart rate goals as indicators of how hard you should push yourself for optimal benefit during your exercise sessions. To identify your optimal heart rate deduct your age by 220. For example, you are age 67 and want to work at 45% of your maximum heart rate which is 153. This is 220 - 67 multiplied by .45 = 45% of maximum heart rate, is 69. If your ideal rate is 70% the heart rate to be achieved is 107.
Individuals who have led a sedentary lifestyle should set their heart rate goal at 45% or less of their maximum heart rate.

Intensity Scale
100% effort. Near failure. Straining to keep proper form.
Starting to feel muscle fatique. Number of reps are decreasing.
Feeling muscles contract while keeping proper form.
Light weight with little resistance. Few reps; easy to complete a set.
Heart is beating hard and you can't continue on for very long.
Strenuous and becoming fatigued. Difficult to talk and breathing hard.
Increasing resistance, starting to breath heavier.
Warm up, low intensity, easy to have a conversation.

Resistance Training for Beginners

Step 1:
Pre-exercise screening should be completed for anyone with a cardio vascular disease or a chronic condition who is about to embark on an aerobic exercise or resistance training program. This filter or safety net means you should consult with your physician before you begin exercising to ensure the program you start is safe for you. In Canada, many fitness facilities utilize a Par-Q+ questionnaire before you begin a program of exercise. An excellent tool for medical screening including identifying risks for cardiovascular and other chronic conditions exists on line through Sports Medicine Australia https://www.essa.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/Screen-tool-version-v1.1.pdf. (9)
Print off a copy of this form, complete it and share it with your Doctor or your trainer if you are working with a fitness Instructor.

Step 2: Every resistance program should be a part of a larger physical fitness program. Most programs should ideally include aerobic training, flexibility and balance, which is scheduled from three days a week to ideally five days a week or 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous fitness activity in meeting the national Guidelines for fitness activity. If you have led a sedentary lifestyle, your goals may be more modest and dictated by your Doctor or Fitness Instructor. This could include starting with ten minutes of exercise at a time, 3 times a day for up to 30 minutes a day. Initially this could be three days a week progressing up to five days in meeting the National Guidelines. Resistance training should include planned activities for two days a week allowing for 48 hours between exercise sessions to let your muscles heal and grow. Your activities should strengthen the major muscle groups of your body.

Step 3: A typical beginner’s strength training program includes:

  • A warm up: stretching and warming the muscles you are going to use
  • Six to ten exercises that work the major muscles groups of the body performed two to three times each week
  • Beginning with one set of each exercise, comprising as few as 8 repetitions for each exercise no more than twice a week
  • Your ultimate goal should be to increase from one set to two sets and then three sets of exercise per week.
  • Always remember to do a wind down or cool down phase for exercise session

Step 4: Building upon your increased capacity by enhancing your resistance-training program:
Although your health, capacity to exercise and your fitness or gym instructor will guide any suggestions for advanced or increased resistance training, some suggestions may help as follows:

  • Increase the number of repetitions
  • Increase your workout by ten or fifteen minutes
  • Increase the frequency of workouts keeping in mind that muscle groups need 48 hours of recovery time. You can also split your workouts focusing on legs one day, shoulders, chest and back another day and arms on day three.
  • Switch up your exercises to avoid hitting a plateau
  • Increase your weights by 5 to 10%
  • Cross train with other activities like swimming
  • Change your workouts every eight to ten weeks in both energizing yourself and avoiding a plateau

Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology CSEP has produced a wonderful informational guide to help you begin to plan your aerobic exercise and resistance-training program. This guide is available for download and offers a planning sheet within the guide to help you plan your exercise program and to set goals that will assist you to feel better and live longer. http://www.csep.ca/en/guidelines/get-the-guidelines


Remember to see your family Doctor before you begin exercising. A helpful tool to assist you with this conversation is the Health Questionnaire developed by Sports Medicine Australia, which you can download and complete before your appointment.


  1. Resistance exercise in Individuals with and without Cardiovascular Disease ; Circulation 2000; 101: 828-833 http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/101/7/828.full
  2. Better Health Resistance Training http://betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits
  3. Medical-Questionnaire https://www.essa.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/Screen-tool-version-v1.1.pdf.
  4. Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines- Your plan to get active every day http://www.csep.ca/en/guidelines/get-the-guidelines
  5. American College of Sports Medicine 2013 Resistance Training for Health and Fitness www.acsm.org

The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advice. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.