Cardio, such a small word to describe so many activities.  I love doing cardio.  I love feeling sweat drip off my body.  That might sound gross, but I tend to measure the intensity of my workout on how sweaty I am.  If I’m not covered I probably didn’t work hard enough, but that’s just me.  We have all been told that exercise is good for us, but what are the specific benefits of a good cardiovascular workout?

One benefit is that our brains release endorphins when we workout.  Those dear happy chemicals are usually what allow people to love exercising — it makes them feel good.  Now some of you out there are saying, “Not me.  No matter how much I workout I never experience that ‘happy’ sensation.”  Trust me I have been there.  There have been times, while running, that I have contemplated over and over again why am I doing this?  I have even once or twice yelled out loud, “I hate running!” or “I am never doing this again!” Yet I keep running and sometimes it’s a mile into my run but sometimes its 4 miles into my run when suddenly the every-step-is-killing-me feeling finally dissipates and while I might not be over the top ecstatic to be running, it become easier.  I love getting to a place where I don’t have to think about every step, but can instead let my mind wander and enjoy the beauty around me. However there are those days that start to finish your workout is just not fun!  On those days trust that it will be better another day and no matter how wonderful or painful a workout is I always feel better when I am done.  I feel healthy — and that my friends, is a happy feeling.

Another benefit of cardio is the amazing workout you are giving your heart.  By raising your heart rate during a workout you are strengthening your heart (as it is in fact an organ made up of muscle).  A stronger heart is able to pump more blood as it contracts; this in turn lowers your resting heart rate — giving your heart a little breather during most of your dayJ.

Does cardio develop muscle?  The answer is yes and no.  It depends on the type of cardio you are doing.  If you are engaged in a sustained lower intensity activity such as running, biking, using an elliptical or swimming your body will go into fat-burn-mode.  Fat takes longer to burn than carbs so plan a longer amount of time during these workouts. However if your are engaged in a higher intensity activity, what I like to call strength training cardio (I will give some specific examples later on), your body will develop more muscle mass and you will be able to tone and re-shape your body.



(While hiking is not on my list below, it is great cardio and I wanted to include a picture for this post.)

Now I want to contrast different types of cardio so you can best decide what your next workout is going to be!  These benefits are in addition to the general ones we have already covered.

RUNNING: prevents bone and muscle loss.  Because it is a high impact sport you are demanding that your body continue to take care of your skeleton.  Running in general should maintain your muscle in your legs (by reminding your body that you do in fact need those themJ), but increasing the intensity of your run (speed or incline) will help develop new muscles. Running also improves your general health: it raises your good cholesterol, reduces the risk of blood clots and increases the percentage of your lungs being used.  It can also help to improve coordination and strengthen your ankles and core.  This comes from running outside, especially on trails.  You are constantly taking in your surroundings and making adjustments in your body to compensate for the unbalanced terrain!

BIKING: Unlike running, biking is low-impact.  This is a blessing for those with joint problems or those recovering from an injury.  It also helps to strengthen the cartilages.  This is such a great leg workout.  My leg will get tired running, but they will burn as I bike, well when I am biking up an incline that isJ.  A practical benefit to biking is that it can act as your mode of transportation.  You can exercise as you bike to work, the grocery store or to visit a friend.  I love when I can accomplish two things at once.  While a student I often took my textbooks to the gym and made myself cozy on a stationary bike.

SWIMMING: Like biking, swimming is low impact so it a little kinder to your jointsJ.  It can also help improve your flexibility.  As an entire-body form of exercise you are constantly in motion and you arms are reaching and stretching farther with each stroke. Swimming is a great exercise in breath control.  Unlike most exercise you can’t breath whenever you want, only when your head is out of the water.  It can be easy to take short, rapid breaths when we exercise because we are constantly trying to put as much oxygen into our bodies as possible, but swimming forces deep breaths that are released slowly.  This helps develop a greater lung capacity.  Studies have also shown that swimming can help improve asthma symptoms because you are working out in a moist environment, opposed to the dry air in a gym, frigid air of winter or pollen infested air of spring and summer.

ELLIPTICAL: This is another low-impact activity.  An elliptical also gives you the option of engaging your upper body as well as your legs.  In most forms of exercise we are moving in a forward motion.  However it is important to incorporate backward and sideward motion as well to keep all of our muscles engaged and balanced.  The elliptical gives you that opportunity for backward motion, which helps balance the strength of your quads and hamstrings.

STRENGTH TRAINING CARDIO: I told you I would come back to this!  We have already touched on the main benefits.  This form of exercise is truly the muscle builder and body toner.  You are engaging in high intensity exercise, which ramps up the heart rate in short bursts.  These exercises can be in the form of Tabata drills, cross-fit or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training).  A few examples are sprints, burpees and jumping squats.

Do you feel ready to start your next workout?  I do:-) It is so important to stay physically active and to provide your body opportunities to exercise.  Eating well is extremely important, but without adding in exercise it is only part of the equation for a healthy life.

Enjoy your workout and have a great day!

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