Cardio, short for cardiovascular exercise, is any movement that gets your heart rate up and increases blood circulation throughout the body. Most people do cardio to burn off excess calories. When it comes to fat loss, some forms of cardio are slightly better. But that is not all! There are many reasons to do cardio which have nothing to do with fat loss. Here are a variety of health benefits that could help out your body overall.
The first benefit is improved heart conditions. Your heart has to work harder during exercise and pump blood around your body at a faster rate, so it becomes increasingly efficient. Cardio exercises improve muscular function and strength and so, there is an overall improvement in the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen. As one’s ability to transport and use oxygen improves, regular daily activities can be performed with less fatigue. Moreover, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that an average adult should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate –intensity cardiovascular exercises, five days each week.
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Improved brain function
The benefits of cardiovascular exercises have positive effects on brain function on multiple fronts ranging from molecular to behavioral level. They boost the brain’s plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain, making it easier for it to grow new neuronal connections. From a behavioral perspective, the same anti-depressant-like effects associated with ‘runner’s high’ found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. Another study conducted by the University of British Columbia found that cardio increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain related to verbal abilities, memory and learning.
Roughly half of the world’s population suffers from a sleep disorder of some sort. Exercise has shown to improve this for most people and even cure insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that regular exercisers were far more likely to report good sleep than people who were physically inactive. Research indicates exercise does not only improve that quantity of sleep but also its quality. This is something to think about before staying up late, watching television.
Osteoporosis is a condition that affects many aging women suffering from lost bone mass. Studies have shown that when cardiovascular activities are performed several times a week bone density can increase by 12%, over a period of 6 months. Like muscles, bones are also living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young men and women who exercise regularly achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. Exercising allows us to maintain muscle strength, coordination and balance, which in turn helps prevent falls and related fractures.
Improved self-esteem is a key psychological benefit of regular physical exercise. When you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. These interact with receptors in the brain that reduce your perception of pain. In recent years, studies on depression and anxiety have shown that the psychological and physical benefits of regular exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve one’s overall mood. Exercise is a distraction that can keep you away from the cycle of negative thoughts and getting in shape can also make you feel better about your appearance.
All in all, incorporating some cardio into your daily routine and improving overall heath not only promotes weight loss but also helps boost your mood, strengthen your heart and bones.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2016.
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