Endurance is an under-rated virtue. When we think of physical endurance, we might think of marathons or triathlons — festivals of lactic acid agony and endorphin ecstasy that last hours and require months of training. But every marathoner and every triathlete started training with a single step. They built their endurance from the bottom, just like you and everyone you see at the gym.
What is endurance? Endurance shares the same root word as “durable,” the Old French endurer itself evolved from the Latin word idurare, which means “to harden.” Broadly speaking, it’s the ability of any organism to keep up an activity, despite challenges, obstacles, or physical pain. But athletic endurance isn’t just about gritting your teeth and toughening up. It’s about training each part of your body to last a little bit longer.
For example, a big part of athletic endurance is cardiovascular endurance. This is easy to measure, because it has a direct influence on the resting heart rate. By raising your maximum heart rate over time, you can diminish blood pressure and lower that resting heart rate. But you have to hit your targets first:
Cardiovascular endurance improves when you exercise in an aerobic training zone that elevates your heart rate to somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. To find your MHR, subtract your age from 220. Your true MHR should fall within 12 beats above or below this number.
Then use these formulas to find the upper and lower range:
Aerobic Training Zone
((MHR – RHR) × .60) + RHR = Lower Limit of Range
((MHR – RHR) × .85)+ RHR = Upper Limit of Range
Another component of athletic endurance is lung capacity and breath endurance. Your heart will beat faster to circulate more oxygen through your blood vessels and tissues, but you can increase the total amount of oxygen available by increasing your lung capacity. There are many ways to do this, from yogic breathing to training in water.
Focusing on these two things can increase your total physical endurance, and empower you to do longer activities like marathons. You can also choose to focus on endurance activities in general — joining a community sports team in your neighbourhood will keep you on your feet for a few hours at least once a week, and it’ll give you great incentive to keep up your training. (It’s easy to let yourself down; letting down your team is a lot harder.) If group sports aren’t your thing, you can try the Couch to 5K program, which is designed to get anybody moving in only nine weeks.
But endurance is also a mental game. If you’re the kind of person who quietly seethes at the couple ahead of you in line for the self check-in kiosk at the airport, then a 5K run might not seem like the best fit. But the good news is that regular exercise can improve your mood, making you less likely to lose your cool in life outside the gym. You can also improve your mental game by meditating regularly, and understanding exercise itself as a kind of physical and emotional practise that prepares you for a variety of challenges. Once you get moving, standing still becomes a lot easier.