If you’re one of those people who don’t like cardio, then you’re not alone. An increasing number of Americans don’t enjoy it. Why? Well let’s face it. Whether it’s running on the treadmill, using the elliptical or doing jumping jacks, cardio can sometimes be…boring.
But the old saying holds true – good things don’t come easy. Cardio is often an underutilized tool because of the intimidation factor. People think they must be a track star or marathon runner to enjoy it. WRONG! That’s definitely not the case. What most don’t realize is that you could be the most non-athletic couch potato there ever was and still reap benefits. The health benefits of cardio are truly amazing. If you thought weight loss was it, take another look. That’s only the beginning.
Top Benefits of Cardio
Listed below are some of the top benefits of cardio (noticed I listed some benefits – there are many more).
- Weight Loss
- Improved mood
- Improved sleep habits
- Healthier heart and stronger lungs
- Increased stamina
- Improved sexual health
- Boosted self-confidence
Not too shabby! This list is only the beginning, but I just wanted to give you a few of the many reasons you should give cardio a try. In addition to the benefits listed above, it also reduces stress and improves brain function. Interested in how this works? Let me explain.
The Science Behind Cardio
The Circulatory System is our body’s main transportation mechanism for blood and other nutrients. AKA the Cardiovascular System, it’s where the heart pumps blood to all our organs. Cardio exercise is the main activity that strengthens this system.
When you participate in cardio, your muscles are working harder. Those muscles in turn demand more blood and energy (ATP) from your heart and other cells to maintain that activity level. The more you “exercise” that demand for blood and energy to the different components of your body, the stronger you become. This holds especially true for your heart and lungs.
Have you ever decided you were going out for a run? Maybe you hadn’t exercised in a while and felt the need to get back in shape…or maybe you simply wanted to enjoy the fresh air. Whatever your motivation was, what happened? For me, personally, I would usually get a quarter of the way around our half-mile neighborhood (sometimes not even that far) then feel like my lungs were exploding.
It’s rather simple really. If your heart and lungs aren’t used to that intense demand for fuel, they are going to be scrambling to supply your body with the energy it needs. If you’ve ever felt your chest getting tight when doing cardio but your muscles feel fine…your cardiovascular system is probably screaming, “Hey! Train me more!”
Two Main Types of Cardio – Which One is Best?
So the two main types of cardio are as follows:
Steady State, Long Duration
High intensity, Short Duration
All the different types of cardio you hear about fall under these two main categories. Why? Because there are two main types of muscle fibers in our body. There’s slow-twitch (Type I) and fast-twitch (Type II). Depending on the way you train, you have the ability to build up different types of muscle fibers in your body and, as a result, change your physical appearance.
Some examples of this are long-distance runners and body builders. Stand the two side by side and they look nothing alike. How come? Because of their training and eating habits. Both have a unique strength about them, but a large part of that is due to their training. One probably runs long distances and lifts low weight/high reps and the other only lifts heavy and sprints. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. It all depends on your approach and what your goals are.
Some common types of cardio are listed below. Remember: BALANCE IS KEY. If you can, try to incorporate both types into your workout routine. It’s never a good idea to only do one or the other. Your body will wear down faster and your risk of injury will rise.
Want to learn more pain-free ways to exercise with damaged joints? Read Low Impact Exercises for Bad Knees.
Steady State/Long Duration
- Slow Jogging
- Light Swimming
- Light Elliptical
- Walking Up Stairs
- Moderate Cycling
High Intensity/Short Duration
- Box Jumps
- Jump Rope
- Battle Rope
- Running Up Stairs
OK, this is a relative area because each person’s stamina and recovery time is going to be slightly different. A good recommendation for those doing steady state/long duration cardio would be 30 min a day for 5 days/week. If you’re doing more high intensity/short duration cardio, then 20 minutes a day for 3 days/week is recommended. However, if you’re new to cardio or are stepping up your intensity levels then you may want to build up. Don’t risk damaging your body because you stepped it up too fast. Remember – good things don’t come easy. Sometimes patience and building a good momentum takes time. If you are completely wiped out doing 2 days of cardio a week then only do that amount for the next few weeks. Listen to your body. Once those 2 days of cardio become more manageable, then slowly do more. If you get discouraged along the way, always remember:
Doing something is better than nothing!
Yes, it’s good to push yourself…but know when your body is telling you to rest. Getting injured sucks. Last summer I was running 3-4 miles a day for 4-5 days a week. Then one day I began to experience a sharp pain in my shins while running. Like an idiot, I continued to run because it was what I enjoyed doing. Not even a week later, I could barely walk because of the shooting pain. It set me back for almost a month again before I could start working up to where I had been before.
Moral of the story? Be smart. Cardio is a great tool to improve overall health. Like anything, though, moderation is the key.
For those of you who still aren’t thrilled at the thought of doing cardio, let me reiterate one of the many side effects it produces – weight loss. Second only to eating clean, cardio is the next best causative factor for this. Why? Because of two simple reasons.
It burns fat and calories during the workout
It burns fat and calories after the workout
This “afterburn” effect that burns additional fat and calories after your workout is referred to as EPOC, meaning “post-exercise oxygen consumption”. It basically means that your cardiovascular system is working harder to continue pumping blood and energy to your sore muscles, aiding in recovery. This speeds up your metabolism. Sometimes, it can take up to a day or longer for this to fully work! You excited now? Just think of it as your body’s way of helping you lose weight. If you put in the hard work, then your body continues to work for you. Pretty efficient if you ask me.
Health Benefits of Cardio – Try it Yourself
Before wrapping things up, I’d like to leave you with a list of ways to incorporate cardio into your lifestyle. The good news is that you don’t have to torture yourself on the treadmill! You can literally choose any activity that you enjoy. Cardio is not one of these fads that comes and goes. It really works! Whether you’re wanting to lose weight, become stronger, build heart health or improve your mood…the health benefits are limitless. If you’d like, comment below with your favorite type of cardio. I’d love to hear from you!
- Go hiking
- Try a Zumba class
- Join an adult recreational sports team
- Take the stairs
- Try out kickboxing
- Bicycle on a sunny day
- Got kids? Jump on the trampoline
- Walk around downtown