Your Blood, Your Heart, Your Life and Death
Blood is life; your lifeblood so to speak. Consider your heart much? You should. The number one cause of death globally is cardiovascular disease (CVD). And CVD leads by a wide margin – over 40%. If that’s not alarming enough, the gap between CVD and other diseases continues to grow. And before you dismiss CVD as an old person’s disease, know this; the beginnings of the build-up of plaque in the arteries is observed in teenagers.
So what’s one of the top risk factors for CVD? You guessed it. Inactivity. And that’s where cardiovascular fitness machines come in, the topic of this article.
Recently I was asked, “What’s the best exercise machine for me. I injured my knee and it has slowed me down to the point where I’m feeling my health will be compromised if I don’t find a way to move more.”
On the same day, someone else asked, “What’s the best piece of cardio equipment for my mother. She’s gotten sedentary and has diabetes on top of that and needs some easy way to get moving in her own home.”
Both questions assumed that engaging in some sort of cardiovascular exercise on a regular basis would be good for health. This is unequivocally true. And it’s not only good for CVD but for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, lung disease, autoimmune disease and many other diseases and conditions.
Furthermore, many of those other conditions are themselves risk factors for CVD (and vice versa). It’s simple. Get your heart moving on a regular basis and you improve your health and your longevity.
Unfortunately, simply getting an exercise machine isn’t the whole answer when you consider how many basements already contain a treadmill or exercise bike gathering dust.
This inspired me to do some research and I thought no point in letting this research go to waste; so for those of you looking to improve your cardiovascular fitness and invest in an exercise machine that you are more likely to use this article is for you.
Here’s the thing about cardio:
- Any Machine Will Work
Elevating your heart rate is all that matters to confer upon you a cardiovascular benefit. Swim, ride a horse, garden or use an exercise machine. Your heart doesn’t care. All that matters is that you do it. So do something you like so that you’re likely to keep doing it.
- Going Easy Carries the Greatest Benefit.
Good news for all you sedentary couch potatoes. You don’t have to go hard. Multiple studies have shown that if you are inactive and even if you are well-conditioned, a relatively low level of activity will improve your cardio fitness and decrease your risk of all-cause mortality. You should be breathing harder but not panting. And you should still be able to carry on a conversation albeit with shorter sentences.
Top Seven Reasons You Need to Get Yourself a Cardio Machine
- You hate gardening, going outside is not your thing and you have no reason to move otherwise.
- If I have a machine close at hand I can hop on at any time that fits my schedule for even 10 minutes, I’m more likely to do it.
- Bad weather outside is no excuse.
- I have no interest in a gym membership.
- Even if all I have is 15 minutes at midnight before bed, I can get some cardio in.
- If I can watch my favourite show while doing it I’m definitely more likely to get my cardio in.
- The upshot: If you are in danger of becoming sedentary, an in-home exercise machine is the best way to remove any obstacles getting in the way of you exercising your heart.
Cardio Machine Rundown
There are literally dozens of cardio/exercise machine variations on the market for your home. I am not reviewing specific brands or models but rather the different classes of machines – which is your first decision. It’s like buying a vehicle. First, you choose the class of vehicle – SUV, sub-compact, pickup truck, mini-van etc. Then you choose which brand and model you want.
Here are the six main classes of fitness machines that people are looking for.
The treadmill has been the most popular piece of exercise equipment both at home and in the gym for decades. A treadmill is easy to use. Walking and running are natural movements that don’t require a learning curve. But while immensely popular and simple to use, they may not be suitable for everyone and there are better options for the average person and especially as you get older.
- Involves basic movement that almost everyone can handle
- Scalable from an easy walk to an all-out sprint for those in the upper category of fitness
- The variable incline allows you to remain in the cardio zone while still walking
- Hard on the joints. For some, even walking is hard on the joints.
- Any lower body issues such as knee, ankle or hip are exasperated with a standing position.
- Safety. Losing your balance, getting distracted, stumbling or falling are very real dangers and the motorized moving belt compounds the effect.
2. Stationary Bike
The stationary bike is probably second most popular piece of exercise equipment in the home. Its advantages compared to the treadmill are (a) the seated position which takes the load off your lower body, (b) lower joint impact for knees and hips and (c) quieter. There is quite a diverse variation in styles for stationary bikes.
- A natural movement that most people can handle.
- Resistance is scalable from very easy to very hard and can accommodate any fitness level.
- Because you are in a seated position, it’s easy to laze out and remain under the beneficial cardio zone.
- The bicycle seat is uncomfortable for some and the bent-over position can be a problem for anyone with back issues.
3. Recumbent Bike
“Recumbent” (which refers to a reclined position) for exercise equipment refers to a seated position usually with a seat back.
A recumbent bike can be handled by almost anyone of any age. Yet, it still offers the ability to do an intense workout. A recumbent bike compared to the standard stationary bike (previous item) has a wide and comfortable seat and you sit in an upright position similar to a chair. You usually have multiple positions for your hands such as on the sides of your seat or in front of you (both shown in the picture). The other difference is that rather than using your body weight to push the peddles down, you push the peddles in front of you using the back of the seat for support.
- Very easy on the joints
- For anyone with back issues, the recumbent position puts less strain on the back.
- Bulkier than a stationary bike.
- Cannot stand up off the seat to get a high-intensity sprint.
4. Elliptical (Standard Standing Style)
Similar to a treadmill in that you are in a standing position but the difference is that as move your legs back and forth, your feet remain planted stationary on a footpad that moves with your feet. This results in much less impact on your joints even though you are in a standing position. Furthermore, the motions are very smooth. The hand bars move in tandem with your footpads so that you get a more complete upper and lower body workout. Furthermore, the hand bars provide a higher level of stability as you move your legs compared to the treadmill. You can also hold onto the stationary bars if you want. This makes the elliptical a preferred option over a treadmill for many, especially seniors. However, the standing position may still be an issue for some.
- Easier on the joints than a treadmill.
- Engages the upper body as well making it easy to get into the cardio zone.
- Safer than a treadmill. You’re less likely to lose footing or balance.
- As with a treadmill, the standing position may be an issue for some (mitigated by the recumbent (seated) version – next on the list)
5. Recumbent Elliptical (also known as the cross-trainer)
These machines are less familiar to most people. There are enough advantages for almost any fitness level and age that they ought to be considered a preferred option. In many ways, they offer a combination of the best features of an elliptical and a recumbent bike and none of the disadvantages of a treadmill or a standard stationary bike.
A recumbent elliptical is very comparable to a recumbent bike. The motion of the peddles is (as the name suggests) elliptical compared to circular, and movable hand bars give you both an upper and lower workout. But those are minor differences.
Note: The recumbent elliptical claims to be the number one machine used in rehabilitation clinics. This makes sense and helps make the case for its suitability as an in-home exercise machine.
- Basically the same as the recumbent bike.
- No significant issues.
6. Rowing Machine1
For home fitness, the rowing machine is less common. But it has some distinct advantages that put it on par with the top picks in this review. Similar to the recumbent machines reviewed above, you are in a seated position and sitting close to the ground. It is very easy on the joints. A rowing machine engages your whole body – arms, legs and back – in a way that no other machine can. You are completely stable as you row with minimal possibilities of injury. Rowing can be done at a very easy pace or at an Olympic athlete’s pace so it’s truly one machine for all fitness levels and ages.
- Unmatched for a full-body workout yet compatible for older and untrained individuals
- The simple mechanisms make it one of the lightest of all the cardio machines and can easily be moved by one person.
- Very easy on the joints. Furthermore, you can modify your range of motion to minimize any knee and hip movement issues without compromising cardio.
- Minimal storing space; it can either be stored upright or folded in half and set nicely out of the way.
- There is a bit of skill level that some might not feel is intuitive, albeit reasonably easy to learn. Most machines come with a monitor that helps teach rowing basics.
- Full body engagement is a distinct advantage on one hand giving you great full-body cardio but it might be an issue for anyone with back issues. That said, you can limit your range of motion for any functional limitations you have and still get a workout.
- The back and forth seat movement might be an issue for some people. The back and forth movement might also inhibit your viewing experience if you like to watch TV while exercising. The fixed seats on a recumbent machine might be preferable in such cases.
- The rowing machine is the longest piece of equipment on the list (a bit over 8 ft for the Concept2) and that may limit where you can place it. However, as stated in the “pros” above, it’s light and easily moved and takes up minimal space when stored.
And The Winner Is –> A tie: Rebument Bike and Recumbent Elliptical
If you need a machine that takes you to 100 (and beyond), then these are the ones to pick. They are safe, easy to use, easy on the joints, comfortable and quiet2.
Close Runner Up –> Rowing Machine
The rowing machine almost made it a three-way tie with most of the same benefits as the recumbent machines. However, it’s just a bit less comfortable and offers a somewhat more challenging workout experience. That said, for the more athletic user even the elderly, this is number one since this machine gives the most complete workout of any on the list.
 This review refers to the Concept2 and similar brand machines. Unlike other cardio equipment, the Concept2 is one machine that sets the gold standard and is by far the most common brand of rowing machines in gyms and commercial fitness facilities. It’s used by the top Olympic training facilities almost everywhere but is also found in senior citizen homes.
 Magnetic resistance models. The mechanism will determine how quiet a machine is. In the case of these recumbent machines, a magnetic resistance model will be amongst the quietest machines out there.