Cardio: Love it or hate it, there’s little doubt it is essential to a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle. After all, there are few things (no things?) more important than keeping your heart beating.
But while cardio for cardio’s sake is a valid enough reason to make it a part of your routine, it is far from the only one.
Training Your Body and Your Mind
Exercise is a commitment. Like any worthwhile commitment, you are dedicating time and resources that will hopefully result in an equal or greater payoff.
So you have gotten yourself some comfortable workout attire, a decent pair of running shoes. Maybe you’ve even managed to cut some time out of your busy day to hit the treadmill or the trails for a run. However, not everyone gets the same thrill from cardio as others.
Everyone has their favorite workout, be it yoga, weight lifting, or something else. With dedication, the chances are that regular cardio may actually significantly improve your mental health too. In fact, it’s so effective that in many cases, doctors suggest cardio to patients with depression and anxiety as a way to help stabilize their mental health.
Here are a few of the mental functions cardio can improve upon when included in your exercise regime:
Everyone exercises for different reasons. Whether you are doing strength training to bulk up or joining your local cycling group to meet interesting people, you are experiencing gains.
Regular physical activity can absolutely change your physical appearance, but often just knowing that you can preserve through a workout or that you tried a new type of exercise can help us see ourselves as disciplined and strong.
Sometimes, when feeling mentally trapped, even low to moderate intensity workouts can offer mental relief. There are so many different ways to get in your cardio, so pick one that’s right for you. Are you angry? Go do some kickboxing. Sad? Find somewhere new and go on a run.
Exercise isn't all about burning calories at the gym. Good cardio actually enlarges your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that helps handle emotional responses. So give your brain a break and let your body pull its own weight for a change.
Cardio can release endorphins and improve cognitive function. Essentially, cardio is a key to a healthy heart in more ways than one.
If you are one of those people who needs a good caffeine boost to get your day started, you are probably familiar with the other side of that double-edged sword. A small dose of caffeine can be useful from time to time, but if you find yourself gazing at the ceiling at 3 a.m. night after night, that caffeine is going to start having diminishing returns.
How you wake up and when you get to sleep both play a significant role in your day. Forming healthy habits is essential to getting a consistent night's rest.
People who do cardio a few times a week generally get more “slow-wave” sleep and develop healthier sleep patterns more easily. Not only will cardio net you more sleep overall, but it will greatly improve sleep quality.
Often, results are not a dish we enjoy served cold. The physical results of our hard work can take time. Sometimes, it’s easy to become discouraged if you are not seeing them as quickly as you like.
Everybody is different and metabolizes uniquely, so it’s essential to keep your eye on the prize and stay the course. Even so, there are a few things that you should begin to see and feel changing once you start doing regular cardio.
Keep an eye out for:
Increased lung capacity
Easier movement of joints
Toned calf and thigh muscles
An increase in “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower blood pressure
Better sex drive/decreased chances of ED in men
The potential long-term benefits of cardiovascular health are many and far-reaching. It’s probably the closest thing to a cure-all you are going to find in terms of longevity and mental health. Thanks to the cardio’s positive effects on blood flow, mental acuity, and increased oxygen intake, you stand far more likely to live a longer, healthier life.
The following are just a few examples of cardio’s benefits on your life:
Today, degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer's disease are as common as they are dreaded. Knowing that there may be a way to decrease these diseases’ likelihood can bring tremendous peace of mind. Cardio increases blood flow throughout your body, including to your brain. That means your brain will likely remain sharper and be more resistant to mental diseases of many kinds.
Obviously, there is no 100% guarantee that regular cardio will make you immune to such things. However, healthcare professionals all agree: it certainly won’t hurt your odds.
The results of regular cardio exercises really do beneficially affect the majority of your body in some way or another. Basically, any positive attribute that your blood can experience; odds are, it is improved with cardio.
Blood sugar levels: Cardio helps keep them balanced and significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Blood oxygen content: Cardio increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream, allowing muscles to develop more efficiently and adapt to increased strain with greater ease.
Clogged arteries: Plaque buildup can lead to circulation problems and increased chances of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. These are the number one killers of Americans across all categories. Making sure you do regular cardio will keep your blood pumping and your heart healthy. This reduces your risk of cardiovascular complications.
The more obvious effects of cardio on your body include things like muscle growth and weight loss, but there is so much more happening behind the scenes. All that basketball and jumping rope helps strengthen everything from your lungs and pancreas to the health of your skin.
Cardio offers these physiological improvements:
Heavy breathing and movement make your lungs function more efficiently. This raises their oxygen capacity, increasing their endurance and stamina.
The increased control over your blood sugar puts less strain on your pancreas and helps you better digest food and gain energy. It also improves your good cholesterol levels and decreases your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Cardio can also boost our immune systems. Aerobic exercise produces antibodies known as immunoglobulins for a better chance of successfully fighting off an infection.
Cardio increases blood flow, and not just to your heart. Better blood flow = better, healthier-looking skin.
Staying Up To Speed
No matter where you find yourself in your fitness journey, it’s important to stay informed about your health. We know that everyone has unique goals and aspirations when it comes to their exercise regimen. So whether you are looking for a new way to look at working out or a new look to work out in, at Olivers, we’re here to help.
Ultimately, cardio is a great way to improve mental and physical health. No matter how you choose to introduce cardio to your fitness plan, your body will thank you.
Benefits of Cardio Exercise for the Brain and Body | Business Insider
From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout | Cleveland Clinic
HDL cholesterol: How to boost your 'good' cholesterol | Mayo Clinic
The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running | John Hopkins Medicine
Slow-Wave Sleep - an overview | Science Direct