Cardio is underrated. I am referring to aerobic exercise, the rhythmic activity that gets your heart rate up, and keeps it sustained for an extended period of time. When asked for my advice and opinion on how to allocate time in the gym, I always emphasize the importance of cardio, but that doesn’t seem to be the answer people are hoping for. For many, aerobic exercise is the neglected step-child in the Fitness family. For one reason or another, folks tend to have “issues” with cardio. When I was a personal trainer, I heard all too often (particularly from my male clients) “I hate cardio.” Then there is the “I was doing cardio every day for a couple of weeks!” plea bargainer (as if they should get points for intermittent exercise, like Army Reservists). And of course the excuse I hear most often is, “I don’t have time.” That’s hogwash. None of those excuses are good enough to keep you from getting a regular dose of heart pumping and sweat pouring cardio. Especially for those that want to lose weight, you’re kidding yourself by opting for the weight machines instead of the elliptical. Regardless of your body weight, the health benefits are bountiful, and engaging in regular cardiovascular activity should be a priority for everyone. In fact, anything short of three times a week is negligence.
Cardiovascular & Physiological Benefits
According to the American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org), engaging in sustained, regular exercise will benefit the cardiovascular system in many ways. It reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke, promotes weight loss, reduces blood pressure, increases “good” cholesterol (HDL), and reduces bad cholesterol (LDL). Patients with Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes are able to maintain their blood sugar levels, and increase insulin sensitivity over time simply by performing cardiovascular exercise (in conjunction with other healthy habits like not smoking and eating a healthy diet).
Exercise improves muscle function, strength, and oxygen utilization. With increased use, the blood vessels become used to dilating in response to exercise, and respond more efficiently. Bone density increases from the weight bearing activity, thereby decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. Consequently, the likelihood of lower back pain is also reduced (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain/LB00001_D). This means you will be able to perform regular activities with less fatigue, and you will have more energy to engage in everyday activities with friends and family.
Improved Quality of Life
Exercise has been linked to increased self-confidence, reduced stress and less anxiety. The authors of “Fat to Firm at Any Age” write, “Research suggests that exercise regulates mood in a variety of ways. For example, exercise seems to trigger the release of endorphins, opiate-like brain chemicals that act as a natural mood elevator, making you feel good all over.” For me, exercise is also meditative. I allow myself to get lost in the repetition of whatever cardiovascular activity I am doing: swimming, biking or running. I am able to quiet my inner thoughts, and illuminate my source of being. By focusing on the rhythm of my feet pelting the pavement, my hands gliding through the cool water, or the perfectly cyclical motion of my quads powering the bike, I can find peace. I’m not convinced that stillness is the only path to receiving the benefits of meditation, and apparently I am not alone. According to Dagny Scott, author of “Complete Book of Women’s Running,” many “women speak of running as meditation, therapy, quiet time, an outlet for emotion, a catalyst for growth, a microcosm of their bigger picture.” Somehow, life becomes easier to manage when exercise is a priority. Endurance exercise brings me back to my center, and restores my spiritual equilibrium. It leaves me content, knowing that I’ve done something for the fortification and preservation of my body.
“It is Better to Offer no Excuse Than a Bad One.” -George Washington
I refuse to believe that anyone can’t carve out 15-30 minutes of time in a day in order to preserve their health and well-being. I’m willing to bet if someone told you they would give you a daily anti-ageing pill, but only if you drove fifteen minutes out of your way to pick it up, you’d do it. Skipping your cardio is essentially giving up the same opportunity. We always manage to make time for the things we truly care about. Committing to regular aerobic activity must first be a priority in order for you to realize that lack of time is not an acceptable excuse. For noticeable change in your appearance, you should perform at least thirty minutes of challenging activity daily. Examples include: Brisk walking at 3-4 mph, jogging, upright cycling at 70 rpm, step aerobics, or kickboxing. Keep in mind, your level of fitness will increase rapidly, so you should continually challenge yourself and vary your workouts. For maximum fat-burning, your cardio sessions should extend beyond twenty minutes and be done in the morning. Who can’t squeeze twenty minutes in? One need not be a marathon runner or triathlete to derive measureable benefits from consistent exercise. In “Getting Better,” Kathy Smith reminds us that “all the research indicates that you get the same health benefits by doing say, three ten minute bouts of exercise as you would from doing a single thirty minute workout.” Don’t wait, start today. Make no more excuses. If you fall off, get back on, and when you don’t feel like doing it, do it anyway!