Cardiorespiratory Endurance Activities for Parents and Kids

Family riding bicycles together

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Cardiorespiratory endurance activities test and improve the body's ability to sustain dynamic exercise, using large muscle groups over time. During this moderate- to high-intensity level of exercise, the body's circulatory and respiratory systems—the heart and lungs—must supply fuel and oxygen to the muscles.

What Is Cardiorespiratory Endurance?

This fitness term refers to how efficiently your heart ("cardio") and lungs ("respiratory") work together to supply your body with oxygenated blood over an extended period. The better your cardiorespiratory endurance is, the longer you can exercise—without resting—at a level that increases your heart and breathing rates.

You will usually hear the term shortened to just cardio or aerobic. You might also hear these activities called cardiorespiratory fitness, aerobic fitness, aerobic endurance, cardiopulmonary fitness, or a cardio workout.

Why Fitness Is Important

The World Health Organization (WHO) lists physical inactivity as the fourth most important risk factor for deaths worldwide. Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness not only boosts your overall health and well-being, it also lowers your risk of dying from a variety of illnesses.

Cardio exercise increases the body's need for oxygenated blood. In response, the heart works harder to supply blood to the lungs. The amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat (stroke volume) multiplied by its rate of pumping (heart rate) equals cardiac output.

Exercise can increase cardiac output by three to four times the resting level. Breathing rate also increases as the lungs work to supply extra oxygen.

Over time, cardio workouts will result in a healthier heart and lungs. In contrast, other forms of exercise like resistance training aim primarily to build muscle and bone strength.

How Much Cardio Do You Need?

On a global scale, the vast majority of children (about two-thirds) and adults (60-85%) do not get enough physical activity, according to WHO. That means most of us would benefit from more movement, but how much is enough? And how can you fit exercise into a schedule that's already packed?

Here are cardio exercise recommendations for both adults and kids, along with some creative ways to increase your cardiorespiratory endurance without a separate workout.

Guidelines for Adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises adults to choose one of the following options for cardio exercise each week:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity exercise
  • A combination of the two

Resistance training is also recommended on most days of the week to build and maintain muscle mass.

Guidelines for Children and Teens

The CDC recommends that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, with most of it in the form of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise. Activities that build muscle and bone mass should also be encouraged to promote physical growth and development.

Examples of strengthening exercises that are safe and appropriate for kids:

  • Climbing a rock wall
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Jumping jacks

Supporting your child's participation in sports (or any physical activity they enjoy) is a good way to help them get moving and establish healthy habits.

Exercise Intensity Levels

How can you tell the difference between various intensity levels? The easiest way is to focus on how much effort it takes to talk while doing the activity. Because talking requires breathing, the more an exercise raises your breathing rate, the more difficult it will be to carry on a conversation while doing that exercise.

During moderate-intensity exercise, you should be able to talk but not sing a song.

Exercising at a vigorous intensity level means that you can only speak a few words at a time.

Another way to gauge the intensity level of an activity is by taking your heart rate or pulse. While the gold standard for measuring exercise intensity is by maximum oxygen uptake in a laboratory, research has shown that heart rate is a comparable (and much more convenient) test.

Checking Your Pulse

To check your pulse, simply press two fingers to one side of your neck, just under your jaw bone where the carotid artery lies. You will be able to feel a pulse each time your heart beats. Count the number of beats in one minute (or in 30 seconds and multiply by two) to get your pulse.

To use heart rate as a tool when exercising, first calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, a 60-year-old would subtract 60 from 220 for a maximum heart rate of 160. This is the fastest rate at which your heart can beat in one minute.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends aiming for 50-75% of max heart rate during moderate-intensity exercise and 75-85% of max heart rate during vigorous-intensity workouts. Below are maximum and target heart rate numbers provided by the AHA.

Target Heart Rate
Maximum Heart Rate
20 100-170 bpm* 200 bpm
30 95-162 bpm 190 bpm
35 93-157 bpm 185 bpm
40 90-153 bpm 180 bpm
45 88-149 bpm 175 bpm
50 85-145 bpm 170 bpm
55 83-140 bpm 165 bpm
60 80-136 bpm 160 bpm
65 78-132 bpm 155 bpm
70 75-128 bpm 150 bpm
*Beats per minute

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise:

  • Bicycling
  • Brisk walking
  • Paddling a canoe or kayak
  • Roller skating or roller blading
  • Walking up stairs
  • Water aerobics

Vigorous-intensity exercise includes:

While these activities are appropriate for all ages, keep safety in mind when exercising with children. Use helmets when needed and make sure your kids' skill level is matched to the activity. This is especially important with any potentially dangerous forms of exercise (such as kayaking, skiing, or swimming.)

Fitting Exercise In

Between work and responsibilities at home, parents may find it difficult to fit exercise into their busy days. While pedometers are helpful for increasing the number of steps you take each day, the goal of cardiorespiratory endurance is to noticeably increase your breathing and heart rates.

Improving the health of your heart and lungs will lead to a healthy weight, increased strength, more stamina, and higher energy levels if the exercise is done consistently. Try the following ways to transform your daily activities into part of your cardio workout:

  • Bypass the riding mower for the push mower when it's time to cut the grass
  • Instead of using a leaf blower, rake your leaves and bag them
  • Organize a weekly softball or basketball game with friends or coworkers in place of happy hour
  • Take quick trips up and down stairs at work instead of the elevator
  • Walk briskly for 30 minutes on your lunch break

Cardio With Kids

There are a variety of ways to incorporate cardio exercise into your family's routine. Including your kids in your workouts not only improves everyone's health, it can also strengthen your bond as a family.

Make Exercise Fun

Exercise can be more attractive to kids if you turn your family's cardio workout into a game. Activities like these can help everyone enjoy daily physical activity with plenty of laughter and fun:

  • Dancing: Have fun dancing to your own music and movies. Coordination isn't a requirement; movement is all that matters. You can also play dancing video games such as "Dance Dance Revolution." For kids and parents who aren't into sports, this is a great way to enjoy cardio exercise.
  • Hopping, skipping, and twirling: Break out the jump ropes and hula hoops for a cardio workout that is kid-friendly and lots of fun, but also challenges the heart and lungs.
  • Playground games: Many classic, kid-favorite backyard games, especially tag (in its many forms) require plenty of running around, which definitely gets hearts pumping.
  • Sports: Chasing a ball is great cardio exercise. Think of sports such as kickball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, and other racquet sports. Winter sports like ice skating, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing also require and build cardiorespiratory endurance.

Turn Work Into Play

Don't overlook the fact that many everyday chores you do as a family can count toward your exercise goals. Below is a list of a few of the activities you can do with your kids to raise your heart rate:

  • Mopping
  • Mowing the lawn with a push mower
  • Raking leaves
  • Sweeping
  • Vacuuming
  • Washing the car

Anything that raises your heart and breathing rate fits the description of cardio exercise. See what other ideas you can come up with and try to add them into your weekly exercise routine.

A family fitness challenge is a fun way to increase the physical activity of everyone in the family. You can either make it into a friendly competition or just have fun together.

A Word From Verywell

Cardiorespiratory endurance is an important measure of overall physical health. Increasing your and your kids' physical activity levels are worthy goals, but not always easy to achieve. Children are often tired after school and other activities, and the pull of friends and technology is a competing factor when it comes to exercise.

However, by incorporating some of these ideas into your family's lifestyle, you can find creative and fun ways to include physical activity in your daily life, with the result of better health for everyone.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. University of Michigan, Michigan Medicine. Cardiac output.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening: what counts for school-aged children and adolescents?

  5. American Heart Association. Target heart rates chart.

  6. Neshteruk CD, Jones DJ, Skinner A, Ammerman A, Tate DF, Ward DS. Understanding the role of fathers in children’s physical activity: a qualitative study. J Phys Act Health. 2020;17(5):540-547. doi:10.1123/jpah.2019-0386

By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.