The alarm buzzes early waking you from a restful night sleep. You dress quickly in your workout gear and head off to the gym to get in some strength training. Once you’re there you do your specialized weight routine based on which muscles you’re working out that day and finish off your morning with a shower before heading into work, completely skipping the cardio machines. Sound familiar?
If you’re a regular on our blog you know that we’ve discussed the importance of nutrition and physical activity to your overall health, but we haven’t yet tackled why cardio is such an important addition to your workout regimen. Well, we’re about to. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s something to be said for putting down the weights and focusing a bit of your energy on a great cardio workout.
Whether you prefer to use the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bikes at the gym or go for an outdoor jog or swim, all that matters is that you get your body moving, and your heart rate up. I know what you’re thinking though. Why do I even have to bother with cardio? Are there even any real benefits? The answer is yes. And here they are.
Strengthen Your Heart
Cardio training is literally the training pertaining to the heart and blood vessels. At the most basic level the function of cardio is to strengthen the hardest working muscle in the body, the heart, along with the lungs. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both developed and developing countries, and leading a sedentary life is a significant risk factor to developing this condition. The simplest way to strengthen your heart is to add thirty minutes of cardio training to your workout routine at least two to three times per week.
Boost Your Basal Metabolic Rate
Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy that your body naturally requires, while at rest, to maintain basic human functions. As your BMR rises, so does the rate at which your body burns calories while sitting still, making it easier to lose fat and gain muscle mass during workouts. Cardio training allows for lean muscle mass to increase, rather than the bulk muscles that are obtained from strength training. Increased muscle mass allows for an increase in calories being burned, that in turn increases your BMR. To learn more about what your basal metabolic rate is, how to measure it, and why it’s important read our BRM article here.
Improved Future Recovery
Studies show that the inclusion of aerobic and cardio training to a workout regimen significantly decreases the amount of recovery time required after future workouts whether they are cardio based or strength based. This shows that the stronger and healthier you are able to make your heart, the easier all forms of physical training will become. Improving your recovery time is essential because it means that you are able to return to your training sooner, to achieve faster results.
Fight Anxious Feelings
In a 2004, study on the effects of aerobic exercise on anxiety sensitivity it has been shown that cardio training has a direct correlation to anxiety sensitivity. Patients suffering from high anxiety, who implement either high or low intensity cardio workouts, can reduce their anxiety sensitivity to comparatively normal levels. Although it is still suggested by many doctors and scientists that anyone with a severe anxiety condition still be medically treated, cardio training, as well as other forms of physical activity can help to alleviate many of the symptoms associated with anxiety. Studies also show that incorporating group exercise could benefit those suffering from social phobias.
Heighten Energy Levels
Energy levels are heightened as your cardio training sessions increase in both intensity and frequency. Though it may seem illogical expending energy has been found to increase overall energy output in the long run. A study, performed by the University of Georgia, found that when people leading a generally sedentary lifestyle included cardio training into their daily lives, 90% of them experienced an increase in overall energy levels compared to those who did not incorporate any type of physical activity to their day. Basically, if you’re feeling a mid day slump, or just can’t seem to wake up in the mornings, rather than reaching for another cup of coffee or energy drink, lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement. You might be pleasantly surprised by the result.
Increase Your Self-Confidence
Studies show that there is a direct correlation between the way that you feel physically and the way that you feel psychologically. When a group of adolescents were studied to find the connection between their cardio training and their self-confidence level, it was found that those who were active, were more likely to rank their quality of life, and happiness above those who did not participate in cardiovascular activities. Self-confidence can affect every aspect of your life, from whether or not you get hired for a job and how much money you can expect to make, to the health of every personal relationship you ever find yourself in, which is precisely why maintaining a healthy self-confidence level is vital.
It has been well established by medical scientific studies that exercise decreases the symptoms of depression, although it has recently been suggested that the frequency of exercise is more important than the duration or intensity of each session for increased antidepressant effects. If a study directed specifically towards adult women, it was found that whether women participated in cardio training in the morning or afternoon, they were more likely to benefit from increased mood scores after a 24 hour period than women who did not participate in any physical activity. In addition to these findings, it has also been proven that cardio training increases the release of endorphins within the brain which trigger mood boosting properties, if only for a short period of time.
Reduce Your Stress Level
When it comes to reducing stress levels, it has been found that low intensity cardio training is more effective than high intensity cardio training. In fact, it has been suggested that high intensity training can actually cause higher levels of stress and both mental and physical fatigue. Studies show that aerobic exercises are the most effective form of exercise for short-term stress reduction. Yoga has long since been used as a calming form of exercise, but these new studies suggest that low intensity cardio, such as a brisk walk, may be just as, if not more effective for maintaining a stress free composure.
Burn Off Belly Fat
In 2012, a study performed on adolescent males to determine the effects of cardio training on stomach fat and insulin sensitivity discovered that while cardiovascular activity did nothing to improve insulin sensitivity, it did reduce the amount of total and visceral fat that had previously been accumulated. In this study there was no caloric restriction applied, which helped to prove that the fat loss was directly related to the cardio training performed. According to a study on the effects of aerobic exercise on weight loss in men and women, both genders experienced clinically significant weight loss with an equal ratio of expended energy.
Improve Brain Function
Studies show that there is a complex neurobiological connection between cardio training and cognitive functioning. In 2014, a study determined that cognitive decline could be delayed, and independent functioning could be prolonged, by the regular inclusion of aerobic exercises, including: walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. These exercises are generally convenient and inexpensive since many cardio training activities can be performed without equipment or gym memberships, it has been proven as a viable option to maintain adequate brain functioning as you age, regardless of your socioeconomic status.
Improve Your Bone Density
The aging process creates bone degeneration, in both men and women, unless steps are taken to directly increase your bone density as you age. Studies show that one of the most effective ways to improve your bone density through the years is to stay active and incorporate cardio training into your daily life. While only thirty minutes of aerobic activity two to three times per week is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is suggested that the frequency is increased as you age, even if the intensity and duration decreases.
Increase Your Mental Focus
Studies have proven that regular physical activity improves mental health by reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem, and most importantly increasing cognitive function. When combined, these improvements support the theory that cardio training, and other forms of regularly performed exercises, help to increase your mental focus. It has also been shown that those who spend the majority of their day sitting inside, benefit from short and frequent physical breaks both indoors and outdoors. So the next time that you’re straining to remain focused at work, take a break, and walk around. The movement will increase your blood flow and allow your mind to clear, before you get back to work.
Improve Your Quality of Sleep
While the inclusion of regular high and low intensity cardio training has been shown to improve the quality of sleep a person receives when compared against a person who is not physically active, studies show that the best results are found when moderate intensity cardio is performed on a regular basis. Many doctors recommend cardio training as an inexpensive and long lasting form of treatment in adult and elderly insomnia patients, because there are no dangerous, or negative side effects associated with regular cardio training. More research needs to be done to determine whether or not the same positive quality of sleep effects is present in children and adolescents.
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