Whenever I ask students what is meant by “cardio” they immediately list the obligatory and obvious: running, swimming, biking. This usually leads to a much lengthier discussion around the fact that just about any activity can be considered cardiovascular activity, as long as it’s done at an intensity that is high enough and involves dynamic movement. “Cardio” as many people like to refer to it has EXTENSIVE health benefits. What many people don’t realize though as that it can actually be fun (I swear). But, it does have to be done at an intensity that is high enough to gain benefit. By that I mean the activity needs to elevate our heart rate for a sustained period of time. (Technically, our heart rate should be increased to a level that has been scientifically proven to bring about many health benefits. If you’re not sure, visit this link to help you determine where your intensity should be.)
Some people choose to get their cardiovascular exercise in while they are doing their strength training. This has become much more popular as of late and is known as concurrent training. It involves performing weight training activities at an intensity that also allows us to get get our heart rate up for a sustained period of time so that we can enjoy cardiovascular benefits too. (Note: there is some research evidence that this approach may affect strength gains so if that is something you are working on, you may want to adjust your approach).
Regardless of how or what we choose to do for cardiovascular activity, it’s important to reinforce here just how important it is to make sure you find some type of cardiovascular activity that you can (at least partially) enjoy. Meeting the minimum activity guidelines for cardiovascular exercise is essential for many reasons. You might be missing out on some really important things like:
- Psychological Benefits. The potential psychological benefits are extensive. Research is summarized in great detail in Dr. Ratey’s SPARK books. A new book that I am enjoying right now “Staying Sharp: 9 Keys For A Youthful Brain” emphasizes this as well.
- Fat Metabolism and Body Composition: Participating in regular cardiovascular endurance based exercise will increase the oxidation of fatty acids for energy during rest and while exercising. Managing a healthy body composition improves quality of life and reduces risk of disease. Who doesn’t want to burn more fat while exercising and at rest?
- Boost Energy: Through improved metabolism, cellular changes and adaptations can actually allow us to develop more of our energy producing machinery (mitochondria) and it can function more efficiently leading to improved performance.
So, while we know there are many long-term benefits of cardiovascular training, there are just as many that can be enjoyed in the here and now. Keep looking for something that you enjoy doing because you could be missing out on some great health benefits.