I am so excited to share the best advice about cardio with you!
The weather is getting nicer and the urge to go for a long-distance run or walk is definitely in the air. Especially when you’ve got your favourite playlist on hand! I tell you, exercising outside is the best! Hello, endorphins!
Putting my natural happy hormones aside for a moment, let’s talk about the fact that cardiovascular (cardio for short) activity has so many health benefits.
Before I bring out my big list, there is something that I need to explain first. There is a misconception that you need to run for hours. Walk for hours. Play tennis for hours and stay on that treadmill or StairMaster for hours in order to see physical results.
Well, my darling, I’ve got news for you. And this may be a tough pill to swallow.
When it comes to cardio, longer is not better.
How do I know this? Oh come on, you know the drill. When it comes to tackling topics of all things that require professionalism, I turn to the experts. I’ve been on many gym floors during my lifetime and I have never met anyone with more knowledge on the best advice about physical fitness than Debra Basch (@coach_debra_basch). Fitness and nutrition coach with @ladythefup and a retired college instructor at Humber College.
What does she think? Cardio is great. But, not too much.
Time to dive in with some specific questions with Coach Debra!
Why is Cardio important?
This type of exercise primarily strengthens both the heart and lungs. The cardiovascular system. This is extremely important for supplying your body with more oxygenated blood. The stronger this system is, the easier it is for your heart to transport (pump) blood, which carries the oxygen it picked up from your lungs to the rest of your body. Your heart is a muscle and requires exercise just like our other muscles. Without cardio, it will weaken and be more susceptible to chronic diseases.
As for the benefits? Check out this long list!
- Stress reduction
- Supports the natural release of feel-good hormones
- Mental health benefits
- Reduction of bad cholesterol & increase of good cholesterol
- Lowered blood pressure
- Better circulation which is beneficial to skin, muscles, and sexual function
- Reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease
- Helps to maintain a healthy body composition
- Aids in reducing and maintaining fat loss
- Supports brain health and joints
- Lower blood sugar which supports a healthy pancreas
- Creates more energy
- Promotes and aids in better restorative sleep.
So, cardiovascular activity IS important, but…
Can too much cardio be a waste of time?
Like all things North American – if a little is good, a lot must be better. This is not true for cardio.
Everybody is different and what works for one body may not be enough or too much for another. But what is universal and confirmed by science is that too much cardio (think marathon training, running, or cycling long distances repeatedly, hours on the elliptical or Stairmaster) creates havoc on all body systems and is depleting.
Too much cardio puts the body in a catabolic state (starts breaking down muscle tissue). We need our muscles for our metabolism, strength, hormone regulation, and energy. Long endurance sessions create repetitive stress on the joints, bones, and connective tissue and weaken our immune systems.
People often mistakenly think that they need to increase their cardio to aid in fat loss. This can be helpful; however, the body adapts to the increased stimulus. What may work for a while, will need to increase and increase again. What does that mean? Your 30 minutes on the treadmill will need to increase by 45 minutes to 60 minutes to 90 minutes and so on.
The reason is adaptability. Cardio exercise is a form of stress and the body wants to adapt in order to negate the stress that is placed on it.
Surprisingly, studies show that 30 to 45 minutes 4 to 5 days per week of cardio is the sweet spot for health benefits. If a quicker fat loss is your goal, you may need to increase your time, along with some strength training. Bottom line? Please speak to a professional for further information because what you need to achieve optimum health is not always congruent with what you need to do for fat loss. They are not interchangeable goals.
What kind of cardio is recommended?
All cardio is beneficial. Define the goal and then choose something that you will engage in, be able to increase your heart rate, and sustain it for a period of time. We need to have our heart and lungs work well together to efficiently draw in oxygen and deliver it to the increased demand placed on the body during your cardio session.
How much cardio should you do?
Again, define the goal. If you want to run a 10K – only running for 20 minutes to 30 minutes a few times a week is not enough. A half-hour session could be for fat loss when combined with eating in a caloric deficit and engaging in resistance training. Again, if a certain goal would like to be met, seek a professional to tailor your exercise routine, just for you. Because really, everybody reacts differently.
There you have it – the best advice for cardio! Thank you, Coach Debra, for sharing your fitness expertise. I believe that in the end, it doesn’t matter what activity you choose to get your heart rate up to achieve optimal health benefits. Enjoy every minute. Just not too many minutes!