Person jogging in a park.

What is Cardiorespiratory Endurance and How Can You Build it?

Date Published: 2023-10-17
Author: Team Sedera

Did you know that improving your cardiorespiratory endurance can reduce your risk of hypertension and other associated heart diseases? As with muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility, a healthy cardiovascular system is a critical component of a healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at exactly what cardio endurance is, some of the many ways it’s an important health marker, as well as some of the recommended ways that you can begin improving yours.

What is cardiorespiratory endurance?

A person performing cardio such as jogging or bike riding.

The definition of cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability for your cardiovascular system (heart, lungs, blood vessels) to exert itself for extended periods of time. Your heart and lungs need to pump oxygen to your muscles, as well as oxygenated blood and nutrients, to keep your body operating in a safe and robust manner when performing a sustained cardio-oriented activity.

Why is cardiorespiratory endurance important?

As we’ve seen with the differences between muscular strength and muscular endurance, there are benefits to being able to exert yourself in a brief, explosive manner as well as being able to sustain yourself over longer periods of time. Having a healthy cardiovascular system is useful in both cases. However, each generally  requires different types of exercises to improve your cardio capabilities in either area. According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, having better cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a lower risk of hypertension.

How to measure cardiorespiratory endurance

A person using a heart rate monitor while on a treadmill or other exercise device.

There are many ways to test cardiorespiratory endurance but, most trainers will usually start with at least one of two tests:

  • The Cooper Run test

  • The Step test

The Cooper Run test

The Cooper Run test was created by Kenneth Cooper, MD in 1968. The test consists of a 12-minute period of walking or running as far as you can. Be sure to use an accurate method for calculating the distance you’ve traveled. This distance is used in a simple formula to calculate your VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, which is a widely used aerobic fitness metric. Here’s the formula:

VO2max = (35.97 x miles) - 11.29

Alternatively, you can plug in your numbers to this 12-minute run calculator and see similar results. Once you have your estimated numbers, refer to this VO2 max chart from the National Federation of Professional Trainers to get an idea of where your current cardiorespiratory endurance is. After several weeks of beginning a cardio-based exercise routine, feel free to attempt this test again to see what improvements you may have gained.

The Step test

The Step test is one of the simplest cardiorespiratory endurance tests to perform. You can use either a flight of stairs or a box or step stool that is 12 inches high. The test is performed over three consecutive minutes at a rate of 24 steps per minute. The steps are one foot up, second foot up, one foot down, second foot down. After completing the three-minute test, rest for one minute and then take your pulse. Refer to this table from Harvard Medical School to determine your current level of cardiorespiratory endurance.

How to improve cardiorespiratory endurance

People perform high intensity exercises like circuit training in a gym.

As you’ll see from the lists below, the number of activities you can perform to help build cardio endurance are numerous. The important thing is to pick just a few that you think you’ll enjoy and stick with in the long run (pun intended!). This will help you sustain these workouts without getting bored. As we’ve seen with exercises to increase muscular strength or endurance, it’s important to slowly increase the amount of work you’re performing from week to week. With cardio-based exercises, this can be a bit easier to calculate as you can simply add a little bit of speed to your exercise or distance traveled. Try not to add more than 10-20% per week. A little bit goes a long way!

After beginning an exercise routine to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance, it’s not uncommon to begin seeing meaningful improvements in endurance within 6-8 weeks. The important thing to pay attention to is how taxed you’re feeling. Try not to overdo it and still allow yourself plenty of rest and recovery.

Some workout routines may have you performing cardio-heavy exercises as much as 5-7 times per week. If you find this is too much for you, try dialing it back to 2-4 times per week and see if this gives you enough time between sessions to recover. Just like with muscles, your cardiovascular system needs a break after being heavily stressed.

Which activities best develop cardiorespiratory endurance?

The great thing about working towards building cardio endurance is that the types of activities to accomplish it are nearly limitless! In general, these can be broken down into three categories.


  • Basketball, football, baseball, soccer, tennis, lacrosse, etc.

  • Boxing, wrestling, MMA

Exercises and programs

  • Aerobics

  • Calisthenics

  • Interval training

  • Cross-training / circuit training


  • Walking, jogging, running

  • Jumping rope, jumping jacks, dancing

  • Rowing, swimming

  • Cycling, rollerblading, skating

  • Climbing, hiking, skiing

Try finding at least one or two of the above or similar sports, exercise programs, or activities that you think you’ll enjoy. Begin working these into your weekly exercise routines. Remember, cardiorespiratory endurance is the goal, so try to focus on performing these activities for a significant period of time such as 30-60 minutes at least 2-3 times per week.

In conclusion

As we’ve seen, cardiorespiratory endurance is an important component for a healthy lifestyle. It can reduce your risk for hypertension and can also have many other positive benefits with your overall health. The great thing about exercising to improve cardio endurance is the types of exercises are nearly limitless! To keep things simple, simply choose a few of these types of activities you find enjoyable and try to engage in them at least several times per week. You’ll be well on your way to an improved cardiovascular system and a greater quality of life!

SEDERA DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. The information contained herein is for informational and/or educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.