How important do you think cardio is? The benefits of cardio are often under-recognized, with most people thinking all it does is burn calories and reduce body fat, but this is not all. Cardio can help promote good health in numerous other ways, such as improving your circulation, aiding your respiratory system, strengthening your heart, and even improving your mood! Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of cardio.
Also, see 8 Life-Changing Benefits Of Exercise, and 10 Surprising Health Benefits Of Walking Daily.
What is Cardio?
Cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. Another term for cardio is aerobic exercise. It refers to any form of physical activity that raises your heart rate and causes you to breathe more rapidly and deeply.
Cardio exercise is something that many people love to do. From running to cycling and swimming, it’s something that millions of people enjoy doing regularly. However, most people don’t realize the extent at which the benefits of cardio can go in promoting health.
Cardio activities condition and train your heart and lungs to become stronger, which increases your cardiovascular capacity and allows you to be physically active without getting winded or out of breath.
By getting into cardio shape, you can maintain healthy blood pressure and boost your energy levels. So if you are in search of an amazing full-body workout that won’t leave you gasping for air, cardio exercises should be a part of your everyday routine.
What are the Benefits of Cardio
1. Improved cardiovascular health
Just like any muscle gets stronger with exercise, your heart is a muscle and will get stronger the more you exercise.
The heart’s main function is to pump blood containing oxygen across the body, which your muscles need to function.
When you exercise, your muscles work harder and need more oxygen than when it rests. To deliver this oxygen, your heart will start to beat faster, making your pulse speed up. When you exercise regularly, your heart gets used to pumping more blood through your body.
This makes them part of your heart that pumps blood bigger and stronger. With each heartbeat pumping more blood, your heart will begin to beat less to do the same job. This means both your heart rate during exercise and your resting heart rate will decrease, improving your heart function.
Additionally, regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the buildup of plaques in the arteries, reducing the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
What’s more, frequent exercise causes new blood vessels to grow in your body, improving circulation and overall health.
Chronic inactivity, on the other hand, can lead to high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. Read More.
2. Strengthens your lungs
In addition to keeping your heart healthy, cardio strengthens your lungs, improving overall respiratory health. The more air you can move in and out of your lungs, the better able you’ll be to breathe deeply into those lungs on a daily basis.
The added benefit? Better oxygenation to all of your organs. Not only will that keep you feeling young longer, but it also reduces your risk of developing conditions like chronic bronchitis. Plus, being able to take deep breaths is calming and relaxing—great for people who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. It even helps reduce stress by slowing down your breathing rate.
3. Cardio may improve brain function
Exercise improves blood circulation in the brain and releases substances that protect and promote the growth of neurons, brain cells that send and receive messages.
These effects can lead to better memory, attention, and executive function, enabling you to plan and make decisions.
Cardio may also enlarge the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory that tends to shrink as we age. This may help explain why regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of dementia.
A study published in JAMA Neurology found that older adults who did aerobic exercise for a year showed improved brain function. Specifically, they had fewer signs of atrophy in their brains and better executive functioning, which is all about planning, problem-solving, and strategizing. These adults also performed better on memory tests than those who didn’t do cardio.
The researchers concluded that aerobic exercise training might slow age-related neurodegenerative processes in at-risk individuals. It can even improve memory if you don’t have any issues, to begin with!
Another study conducted by scientists at Boston University School of Medicine found that just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity walking helped participants perform significantly better on a short recall test compared to those who were sedentary.
Moreover, daily cardio activities can enhance your emotional wellbeing by increasing the mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. It may also lower the risk of depression and reduce symptoms in those who have depression or anxiety. Read More.
3. Cardio may enhance better sleep
Getting quality sleep can be much harder than you think, but research now shows that exercise can contribute to deep and more restful sleep. This is because exercise involves energy expenditure which generally tires you out, making you want to sleep.
Aerobic exercises release hormones and chemicals that promote restful sleep, so if you have trouble sleeping at night, it’s good to add some cardio to your day. Schedule your exercise for early mornings or evenings. Keeping a steady routine will make it easier to fall asleep faster later on that night.
Exercise also contributes to longer sleep durations. Furthermore, exercise is the easiest way to relieve anxiety and stress, which are common culprits for lack of sleep.
But keep in mind that exercise can also stimulate the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that keep someone awake. That’s why if exercising late in the evening, it’s better to do so 1-2 hours before going to bed. This will allow your endorphin levels to wear off, allowing your brain to wind down and relax.
4. Exercise will increase your metabolic rate
Your metabolic rate is simply the rate at which your body converts what you eat into energy. It can also be defined as the number of calories you burn when doing something.
Exercise increases the rate at which your body releases and uses energy, even at rest, which allows you to burn more fats causing weight loss and increased energy levels. Read More.
One benefit of cardio exercise is that it can increase your metabolism, which helps to increase your energy levels and burn fat for fuel. According to a study published in The Journal of Physiology, regular cardio exercise can burn up to 450 calories per session.
So, if you participate in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, you may be able to lose up to half a pound each week. Not only does increased metabolism helps you to stay leaner, but it also gives you more energy throughout your day.
Experts recommend performing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Moderate intensity refers to activities like walking briskly or riding a bike on level ground; vigorous intensity refers to activities like running or swimming laps.
5. Exercise may improve bone and muscle health
Exercise can be beneficial in preventing and treating osteoporosis. This is because it increases bone density and strength. It can also increase coordination, muscle strength, and balance.
Strong bones and joints are essential for maintaining mobility as we age. According to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, women who engaged in high levels of physical activity had greater hip and spine bone density than those who engaged in less physical activity.
Cardio exercises such as walking will increase your bone density, but it also increases muscle strength and balance—two vital factors for preventing falls later on.
If you have any concerns about your bones or musculoskeletal system, consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
The best bone-building exercises include resistance exercises such as weight-lifting and weight-bearing exercises such as hiking, jogging, walking, climbing stairs, and dancing. Read More.
6. Exercise can increase energy levels
One benefit of cardio exercises is that it increases energy levels. This is because as we work out, our heart rate increases, and blood circulation to muscles improves. It also releases feel-good hormones called endorphins which make us feel happier and more energetic.
All these factors combined result in increased energy levels which makes you feel more alert, better able to concentrate, and more alive generally.
Dopamine, in particular, is a feel-good hormone associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine is also linked to alertness, focus, motivation, planning, learning, and productivity.
In one study, exercise was found to increase energy levels in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome.
In another study, regular exercise performed for six months by healthy individuals with persistent fatigue reported reduced feelings of fatigue.
A few minutes on a treadmill or an exercise bike can make a big difference! If you’re feeling tired and lethargic all day long, try taking some time out for a short but intense burst of activity such as fast walking. You’ll be amazed at how much brighter you feel afterward!
7. It increases insulin sensitivity
Your body requires a certain amount of insulin to take in glucose from your bloodstream and put it into your cells for energy. Unfortunately, people who are overweight or obese have poor insulin sensitivity, which can also increase their risk of type 2 diabetes.
This means that their bodies don’t respond well to insulin, which is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, meaning your body will be better able to handle glucose and use it for energy.
But since the body only requires 4 grams of sugar to be circulating in the blood at any given time, the extra sugar is converted into fat and stored in the body, especially your midsection.
Fortunately, when you exercise, the cells become more receptive to insulin, allowing the body to utilize sugar. This is beneficial for general health, but especially in individuals with obesity or type 2 diabetes.
Also, strength training leads to increased muscle mass, which comes with an increase in new cells that are more receptive to insulin. Read More.
8. It improves skin health
Exercise stimulates blood flow to your skin, helping nourish the cells and keep them healthy.
Additionally, exercise increases natural antioxidants’ production, which protects skin cells against oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
9. Good for endurance athletes
Yes, it’s true that endurance athletes burn more calories at rest than they do while they’re running, cycling, or swimming. But don’t let that fool you—cardiovascular exercise also boosts your resting metabolism, causing you to burn more calories even when you aren’t exercising.
In fact, a study found that people who performed cardio four times per week for 20 minutes burned an extra 81 calories per day compared with those who didn’t work out. That may not sound like much, but it adds up at the end of the day.
The health benefits of cardio exercises are many and well-documented, ranging from strengthening your heart to lowering your blood pressure to improving your lung capacity.
Whether you’re about to start cardio training or simply curious about its benefits, the ones outlined above are the most significant. So, if you’re looking to build lean muscle mass and strength while lowering your body fat percentage, cardio workouts may be just what you need!
Regular exercise of about 150 minutes per week can help improve your body functions and wellbeing. This includes the prevention of chronic conditions, weight loss, and disease management.
However, exercise can never replace a bad diet. So to experience the health benefits of exercise, ensure you incorporate a healthy diet and lifestyle in general. Read More.
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