If you’re looking to lose weight, you may have heard you need to increase your cardio.
That's because cardio exercises burn calories.
And studies have shown that cardio is the best "exercise for weight loss".
Although all sorts of exercises like weight training and swimming burn calories and contribute to your weight loss effort, no other form of exercises burns as many calories as cardio.
It’s well documented by scientific studies.
- Cardio vs Weight Training
- The Best Workout for Weight Loss
- Duke University Research on Aerobic Exercise and Weight Loss
In deed, cardiovascular training is a proven way to burn calories and lose weight. In fact, a study done by Duke University found that cardio burns 67% more calories than resistance training.
But the benefits of cardiovascular training are embedded in its name.
The word "cardio" is short for "cardiovascular," a term used for the circulatory system consisting of the heart and blood vessels in your body.
Cardio benefits go far beyond weight loss, to say the least.
Here are some additional benefits of aerobic exercise:
- Reduce belly fat
- Promotes brain growth
- Prevents stress
- Promotes focus
- Interrupts anxiety
- Regulates depression
Below, I'll discuss the top 5 benefits (other than weight loss) of cardio workouts.
But before I discuss the benefits of cardiovascular training, let’s first understand what is cardio (aerobic exercise) and why cardio is important.
What is cardio exercise?
Cardio is short for cardiovascular fitness, which is a term used to reference the entire circulatory system.
Cardio is sometime known as "aerobic exercise"— it is a form of exercise that requires pumping of oxygenated blood by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles and other tissues and organs in the body.
In a simplest term, cardio (aerobic exercise) stimulates the heart rate to beat at a higher rate than normal, as well as your breathing rate to increase in a way that can be sustained for the length of the exercise session. In contrast, anaerobic exercise is without "oxygen", an exercise activity type that involved you moving quickly and get out of breath quickly, like sprinting and weight lifting.
Aerobic means = needing or using oxygen.
You can think of aerobic exercises like running, biking or an aerobic class like Zumba in your local gym class. Aerobic is the heart pumping exercise that makes your lung takes in more oxygen to keep you moving.
Anaerobic means = without oxygen.
Anaerobic is just the opposite of aerobic. Anaerobic means "without oxygen". You can think of exercises like weight lifting and sprinting are called an anaerobic exercise because they require additional oxygen to perform.
Why do "cardio"?
The main purpose of aerobic or cardio exercise is enhancing respiratory and "circulatory system" efficiency, and as a result, making our heart and lungs healthier, stronger and enable them to work more efficiently.
When you are told to increase cardio, it simply means to perform exercises that will increase your heart rate to your "target heart rate zone" and improve the circulatory system.
What is your target heart rate zone?
Your target heart zone is a way to monitor your exercise intensity or effort to ensure that you are exercising safely and effectively.
The target "heart rate zone” is between 50-85% of your maximum predicted heart rate.
The main benefit to knowing your target heart zone is to help you exercise at the right pace or intensity and prevent you from over or under exercise, says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a Cardiologist and Professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, FL.
Before you can calculate your target heart rate zone, you first need to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate.
Your maximum heart rate is determined by age.
Maximum heat rate equation:
220 – Age = Maximum Heart Rate
For Example: A 45-year-old person would have the following calculation for Max Heart Rate:
220 – 45 years = 175 beats per minute or bpm
To calculate their target heart rate zone (65-85%):
Max heart rate x target % = Target Heart Rate
- 175 x 50% (or .50) = 88 bpm
- 175 x 85% (or .85) = 149 bpm
This person’s target heart rate zone is 107 bpm to 140 bpm.
Why is this important?
According to the American Heart Association, you want to be working out in a heart rate zone between 50 and 85% of your hypothetical maximum heart rate.
Age and maximum heart rate breakdowns are as follows:
Keep in mind that the numbers above indicate the standards and genetic variability, medication and other health conditions may alter your maximum heart rate (MHR).
For instance, maximum heart rate could be affected and lowered by certain blood pressure medication.
Also, MHR percentage training method is not absolute, thus should be used as a good exertion proxy.
Take this exercise for an example.
How hard is your body really working, running on a treadmill at 50% intensity?
The key to knowing your actual exertion level is to know and monitor your heart rate in your everyday life.
It's also worth noting that for moderate intensity lower body exercises, you'd have more accurate reading on the estimated energy expenditure using polor monitors than lab-based calorimetry.
Getting Started with Cardio Workout
If you are new to working out, cardio workouts is one of the best exercise methods to get started with. It's more familiar to many, and you don’t need a gym or expensive "exercise machines" to conduct a cardio session.
That's right. Cardio does not have to happen on a treadmill, despite a popular myth.
Again cardio exercise is any form of exercise that gets your heart rate and breathing rate higher than your normal range.
This can mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the store instead of driving, and going for a leisurely jog around the neighborhood.
All of these exercises are considered cardio.
A simple prescription for beginning cardio training is to start with light to moderate exercise. For sedentary people, this may be a brisk walk or light jog pace.
Always make sure to invest in some good comfortable shoes.
Start slowly and on the low end of the intensity scale and give yourself time to adjust and improve your fitness.
Use the target heart rate zone to determine the appropriate intensity for your fitness level.
This will allow your body to adjust to aerobic or cardio training while minimizing the risk of soreness and injuries.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the world's leading organization for sports medicine and exercise science, promoting healthier lifestyle choices for people worldwide.
ACSM cardiovascular fitness guideline recommends that a healthy adult should aim:
- Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Exercise recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).
- One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise.
- Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk.
People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity.
Takeaway here: Healthy individual should do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise or at least 30 minutes for five days a week.
This suggestion is additional to your normal daily activities.
Although it takes commitment, especially in the first 21 days until you develop a habit, to make cardio part of your daily routine, it can offer invaluable health benefits you treasure for lifetime.
The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you start with 2-3 sessions a week and keep your intensity high enough to make you sweat and get your heart rate up, but light enough you can still carry on a light conversation.
This imply to both men and women. "Cardio workouts for women" and "cardio workouts for men" follow the exact same rule.
Each week you can increase speed or duration, but do not increase it by more than 5-10% each week.
As your fitness level increases gradually, increase the number of sessions per week and the intensity or length of the sessions until you are performing 3-5 sessions of 60 minutes a week at a moderate to high intensity.
A high intensity cardiorespiratory workout would be one in which you are working hard enough that you can only answer short yes or no type of questions. Give your body plenty of time to improve and adapt, and eventually you will have a high level of fitness.
Without further adieu let get started in learning about these cardiovascular benefits!
5 Amazing health benefits of cardio workouts
Scroll down past the infographic to read about each of the benefits.
1. Reduce belly fat
Belly fat is the most dangerous and harmful fat in the human body.
Abdominal obesity or the fat in the abdominal cavity known as belly fat or more precisely, visceral fat is shown to cause the biggest health issues with potential life-altering diseases.
Accumulated belly fat's estimate can be taken by measuring the circumference around your waist at the navel level. This can be done at home using a simple measurement tape.
Anything above 40 inches (102 cm) for men and 35 inches (88 cm) for women is considered abdominal obesity. If you have excess abdominal fat, even if you’re not overweight, it’s important that you take steps towards "reducing your belly fat".
One of the best strategies to reduce belly fat aside from eating a healthy balanced diet is aerobic exercise.
Although performing cardio to lose belly fat is not as well known as performing ab workouts, such as crunches and plank, aerobic exercise is indeed proven very effective at reducing belly fat.
According to a study aiming to measure the effectiveness of ab-focused exercises in reducing belly fat analyzed just abdominal training for six weeks, they found that abs exercises alone were not sufficient to reduce belly fat.
Despite cardio (aerobic exercise) being not known as effective "ab workout" or most often recommended form of exercise for reducing belly fat, research shows aerobic is the best form of "exercises to lose belly fat”.
Keep in mind that this is not to degrade the effectiveness or efficiency of ab workouts as they are proven to significantly improve the muscular endurance and should remain as an essential part of your belly fat reduction exercise strategies.
It simply means cardio is the most essential part of losing belly fat.
There is another striking factor to cardio for weight loss, especially in the abdomen.
One study reported that aerobic exercise completely prevents people from re-gaining weight in their stomach after losing weight.
This implies exercise takes particular importance in weight management and maintenance.
Duke University also recognizes cardio to be the best type of "exercise to combat belly fat" seeing positive results from their own study.
Their study shows people who performed aerobic exercise regularly for eight months lost about 2.5 square inches of belly fat, as measured on a CT scan. That’s about 1.5 times more than people who did a combination of aerobic exercise and weight training, and about 20 times more than those who only lifted weights.
One of the researcher Cris Slentz, an exercise physiologist at Duke University commented "resistance training is great for improving strength and increasing lean muscle mass, but aerobic exercise is better for losing belly fat because it burns more calories".
Takeaway: If you’re trying to lose belly fat, add aerobic exercise to your regular exercise routine. Cardio has been proven to be an effective exercise for reducing, losing and preventing abdominal fat.
2. Improves heart health
Stronger heart, your heart is a muscle, and just like any other muscle in your body, it can benefit from exercise.
It can weaken over time if not given a regular workout and can eventually fail as a result.
By performing "cardiovascular exercises", increasing your heart rate for at least 30 minutes or more at a stretch, you can strengthen the heart and help protect yourself against heart related illness.
3. Improves brain function
Harvard Health Publications reported regular cardiovascular exercises can improve your brain health.
The finding came from the study done by University of British Columbia on the effects cardiovascular and resistance training have on brain functions.
Their researchers found sweaty, heart pumping aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of hippocampus, the brain area relating to verbal memory and learning.
They did not see the same effectiveness from resistance training.
4. Improves sleep
Good quality sleep is incredibly important, and it’s one of the foundations of optimal health.
Unfortunately more and more people are reported having problem falling asleep.
Insufficient sleep is a major health problem.
In fact, sleep disorder is increasingly recognized as an important public health problem that needs to be dealt with.
Studies have linked poor sleep with people having difficulty focusing and completing important daily tasks to motor vehicle crashes.
Roughly 50-70 million US adults are estimated to have sleep or wakefulness disorder.
Sleep deprivation is linked to many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and depression.
As a result of this, more and more prescriptions are being written every year to aid both falling and staying asleep.
Yet, research has shown that obese individuals who routinely take sleep medication have a higher risk of death.
A healthier way to combat sleep disorder is through exercise, particularly aerobic exercise.
According to a study published in Psychology Today, better sleep was found in those who regularly exercise.
It reported that regularly performed activity like cardio exercise may help improve sleep quality.
Another study published by The National Sleep Foundation found that individuals who get at least 150 minutes of regular cardiovascular exercises per week saw an improvement in their sleep quality by 65%.
The participant also reported falling a sleep less during the day, compared to those with less physical activity.
Other similar findings were found in this study: in addition to aerobic exercise drastically heightening sleep quality by 59%, improving individuals' degree of feeling rested by 65.1%, it decreased anxiety and depression.
Takeaway: People who regularly perform aerobic exercise sleep better than those who don’t and have a higher quality life with better focus, restful mind, and less sickness. To improve your sleep quality, the National Sleep Association recommends performing aerobic exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
5. Bone health
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones.
It happens when you lose too much bone mass. As a result, the bones become brittle, fragile, and weak.
Your bones may become prone to injuries even from a seemingly small event such as a minor fall, serious sneezing or even bumping into something.
Osteoporosis is affecting more than 200 million people worldwide.
In the United States, it is reported that 10 million people have osteoporosis, and 18 million are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
According to a study, when women between the age 35 to 45 perform exercise consisting of warm-up, aerobic jumps, stretching and cool-down, it increase lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD by 2%.
Stronger bones can greatly reduce the risk of broken hips, which are one of the main causes of nursing home admissions in the US.
One additional cardio benefit!
A 156 clinically depressed participant study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine determined the links between exercise and their emotional status.
One third of the group followed a aerobic exercise program, one third took antidepressants and the other third followed an exercise program and also took antidepressants.
The study concluded that exercise works just as well at alleviating depression when compared to medication. After a 16 week period, about 60-70% of the people in all three groups could no longer be classified as having major depression.
The research suggests that for those who need or wish to avoid antidepressant medications, exercise might be an acceptable alternative solution.
There you have it! The amazing health benefits of cardio.
Cardio is proven effective and important for optimal health.
The best part is cardio exercises are free and can be done anywhere. It doesn't even require any exercise machines to perform. By adding cardio to your daily routine, you can begin to experience many of these incredible health benefits of aerobic activity.
In short, increasing your amount of cardio and improving your overall health not only helps you lose excess weight, but also boosts your mood, strengthens your heart and improves your overall health.
Performing the recommended 150 minutes per week of cardio exercises, 30-60 minutes of low to moderate intensity exercise per day for 5 days or 20-30 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise 3 times per week is enough to reap the benefits and provide you with noticeable results.
Each set usually lasts about 20-30 seconds.
What's your favorite cardio exercise that you like to do? Leave a comment below to let me know.