Unlike weight loss where you can see the numbers decrease on the scale, improvements in cardiovascular fitness are more difficult to track. You will soon be exercising longer and harder, but as you continue to push yourself, it’s easy to lose sight of how far you’ve come. Take note of these things before you start your exercise program, and evaluate again every 3 to 6 months for a better perspective on your fitness gains.
Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate (RHR) is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. A normal RHR can range from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Trained athletes often have an RHR under 60, sometimes as low as 40. Take your pulse first thing in the morning for 10 seconds. Multiply the number of beats you count by 6 to get your RHR in beats per minute. Measure your heart rate a few days in a row so that you can determine an average. As your fitness improves, you will find that your resting heart rate lowers.
How quickly you recover from vigorous cardiovascular activity can be a marker of improved fitness. As your cardiovascular system grows stronger, you will need less time to rest between segments of activity. For example, when you first start running, you may need to take regular walking breaks to complete your distance. As your fitness improves, these breaks will become shorter until you may not need to take them at all. Another way to measure this progress is to include interval workouts in your cardio routine. Run sprints, jog up stairs, or walk quickly up a hill. Measure how long you need to rest before you are ready to do it again. Your resting segments will decrease over time.
Timed Distance Test
You will become faster and exercise more efficiently as you get fit. A good way to measure this is with a distance test. When you first start out, pick a distance you can walk or run. It can be anywhere from a quarter mile to a mile, depending on your current fitness level. Measure how long it takes you to complete the distance working at a somewhat challenging pace. Repeat the same distance in a few months. Completing it in less time and feeling less fatigued afterward is a good indication that your cardiovascular fitness is improving.