The Best Sports for Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness builds your heart and lung health, and can help you achieve many different health and fitness goals. With superior cardiovascular fitness, you’ll be less prone to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dozens of other health risks – and you’ll be capable of exerting yourself without getting winded or exhausted.

You could build your cardiovascular fitness by spending hours on an elliptical machine or a treadmill at the gym – but this gets tedious fast. It’s much more interesting and engaging to build up your lung and heart stamina by playing sports.

So which sports are best for cardiovascular fitness?


When most people think about cardiovascular exercise, they think about leg-based exercises, like running or cycling. But it’s also possible, and beneficial, to get cardiovascular exercise with your upper body. This is where rowing really shines; the coordination of your back, arm, and core muscles is necessary to propel your team forward, and because you’ll be doing this at moderate intensity for long periods of time, it won’t be long before your stamina increases.

As an added bonus, rowing is typically a team sport, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to make new friends at rowing camps and during competitions.

Trail Running

Running is widely regarded as one of the best cardiovascular exercises because of its simplicity and ability to work multiple major muscle groups at once. You don’t need any fancy equipment, nor do you need advanced technical skills to practice running.

The big problem most people experience when taking up running is boredom; how do you make this more interesting? The answer is with trails. Running trails forces you to pay attention to your surroundings – and you’ll get a chance to immerse yourself in nature along the way.


If you like the idea of immersing yourself in natural scenery, but you don’t like the fact that running is a high impact sport, consider cycling. Cycling is much gentler on your joints and gives you more freedom of movement, allowing you to ride on roads and trails however you see fit.

One of the only barriers to entry with this sport is that you need a bicycle and some protective equipment to get started – but these don’t need to be expensive. While high end bikes can be thousands of dollars, you can get something simple for a few hundred – and as a newcomer, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.


Running and cycling are excellent cardio exercises, but they’re mostly focused on the lower half of your body. Rowing, conversely, allows you to target your upper body, but somewhat neglects the lower body.

If you want a full-body exercise that allows you to engage almost all of your muscles at once, consider swimming. There are four basic strokes to master, and you can swim in a local pool or an open body of water – so there’s plenty of room for personal development here.


If you’re interested in a challenge, and the previous three activities seem interesting to you, consider training for a triathlon. In a triathlon, you’ll start with a swim, move to a long cycling session, and close with a distance run. And if you’re training for an Ironman Triathlon, you’ll eventually learn to cover 140.6 miles with these three sports.


Soccer, known to most of the world as football, forbids you to use your arms and hands, meaning you’ll need to use your legs to keep your body in a state of perpetual motion. As long as you’re not playing goalie, you’ll likely be running back and forth across the field for a couple of hours each game. Even if you’re not skilled with the ball, it will serve as valuable cardiovascular training.


Basketball is similar. The court may be smaller, but you’ll be running back and forth even more frequently. This is not a sport that affords its participants any idle time, so the entire match usually functions as a single, long cardiovascular training session. Note that this only applies to traditional basketball games; you won’t get a cardio workout playing H-O-R-S-E.

The Power of Cross Training

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a primary sport with which to build your cardiovascular fitness, but don’t neglect the power of cross training. Engaging in multiple sports and practicing many different exercises allows you to develop muscle groups all over your body and reduce the risk of injury. It’s also a way to keep your workout regimen interesting – and meet lots of different people.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, or just live a more stimulating life, cardiovascular exercise can help you achieve your goals. And with these intensive, yet fascinating sports, you’ll never be bored while doing so.

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