One of the first things you hear or talk about when it comes to fitness is cardio. What IS cardio anyway? How does it affect the body? More importantly, what are its benefits?
Cardiovascular activity refers to any rhythmic activity that raises your heart rate to a certain degree in such a way that your body gets to burn more calories and fat in the process. Your body uses its large muscle groups while doing cardio, making it an effective fat burning exercise.
Typically, most experts agree that at least 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity a week is needed for the body to reap some of its health benefits. If you are looking to lose a copious amount of weight, or if you want to maintain a certain number on the scale, around 300 minutes of moderate cardio exercises a week should be your target.
Don’t be fooled or scared by the numbers. They may seem long, but if broken down into smaller chunks, they are pretty doable. Even ten minutes of HIIT counts! Remember that it is not merely about the quantity, but the quality of the activity or exercise you are about to engage in.
Knowing the benefits of cardio will not only help raise awareness but will also motivate you to do more of it as you go along. Cardio is one of the easiest activities you can do to help your body get in shape.
Improve Heart Health
Cardio gives one of the most important muscles in your body – your heart – a good reason to work itself out. It helps the heart to become stronger and pumps more nutrient-rich blood to other parts of the body.
Cardio helps lower blood pressure, as well as increase HDL cholesterol levels aka the “good” kind of cholesterol. It helps your body manage insulin and blood sugar levels.
Boosts Mental Health
Cardio exercise, or any form of exercise for that matter, can positively affect your mood and mental wellbeing. It is a well-known fact that our bodies release endorphins, a “happy” hormone, whenever we do something physically challenging such as exercise. Aside from endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine hormones are also released, all three of which help combat anxiety and stress.
Because of the increase in blood flow, the brain also experiences cardio’s positive effects: decreases the chances of stroke, heightens thinking skills and improves memory, and it can even fight the brain’s eventual functioning decline. There have been preliminary studies that even suggest that exercise can protect you from Alzheimer’s disease.
Helps You Lose Weight
Exercise accounts for about 20-30% of your weight loss. The rest relies solely on your diet. If you have been following a healthy and nutritious diet that goes within your daily caloric needs, cardio can help speed up the weight loss process.
Cardio supports weight loss when you are engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Expect to lose between 150 to 1500 calories per session. Another benefit of cardio is that even after exercising, your body continues to burn extra calories and fat.
Certain Diseases are Kept at Bay
Doing the right amount of exercise can help keep certain diseases and conditions at bay. As your heart and lungs become stronger, your chances of developing asthma, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and even some forms of cancer are reduced.
Sleep is something most of us take for granted, given the amount of stress we experience on a daily basis. The good news is that exercise, specifically cardio, can help improve sleep quality. After doing regular cardio exercise, you’ll realise that falling asleep will be much easier, you’ll have a deeper sleep (this is when our bodies heal itself), and you’ll have better sleep efficiency.
Thanks to all that blood pumping throughout your body, your skin can sport a healthy glow. The nutrients in the blood gets transported to every organ, including the skin, and you’ll notice a marked improvement right after a workout session.
Choosing a Cardio Exercise
If you’re looking to incorporate cardio into your daily routine or workout, you have to decide what type of activity you like to do first.
Keep in mind that the secret to choosing which cardio exercise will work for you is one that fits your daily schedule, how often you are willing to do it, and what fits into your personality (yes, that matters too!)
If you go to a gym, there are many machines that you can use to include cardio into your program. Stationary bikes, treadmills, rowing machines, and elliptical trainers are all good cardio machines.
If you are not one to hit the gym, or when you have “off” days, it is easy to do cardio at home. You may choose to follow a video or download an app. Something as simple as jumping jacks or doing burpees counts already!
If you are pressed for time, check out this HIIT article we have and learn more about it.
Bottom line, as long as the activity gets your heart racing and into its heart rate zone, then that counts as cardio already. Walking is the best (and free!) exercise you can do at the moment. If you can’t really determine on the get-go which exercise is best for you, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try out aerobic classes, jog downtown, or try the rowing machine. Pretty soon you’ll discover which one will best suit you and your lifestyle.
Here are some tips to help you decide:
- There is no best cardio exercise, so don’t pressure yourself into doing something you don’t want to do
- You have to enjoy what you’re doing. Make sure to choose an activity that you are willing to do consistently because only then will you be able to experience its benefits.
- Choose an activity that you would do at least three times a week, as this is the minimum requirement.
- Be adventurous, and try out other activities when you’ve fallen into routine already.
- Simplicity is the key. If you have no idea where to begin, start by mapping out 20 minutes of cardio on three different days of the week. Do whatever you want, may it be cycling, walking or swimming. Create a habit first, and then you can either change it up or increase its intensity.
A Word from Rec Xpress
No matter what you decide to do, always remember to keep it simple. Exercise shouldn’t be complicated and should easily fit into your lifestyle. We also like to keep things simple for you, by offering $11/week fees with no lock-in periods and access to all 6 of our locations. Workout anytime of the day as we are open 24/7. Get your membership online and enjoy two weeks free. See you at Rec Xpress!