It probably comes as little surprise that exercise is good for you. But cardio — short for cardiovascular exercise, the sort of exercise that raises your heart and respiratory rate, all while using large muscle groups repetitively and rhythmically (and sometimes called aerobic exercise) — is particularly beneficial for a number of reasons.
Here’s why you should develop a cardio routine for yourself
There are several reasons why a consistent routine for cardio can help you.
Improved heart health
By working the muscle of your heart with a healthy dose of cardio, you’ll get it pumping at a faster rate on a regular basis, helping it to stay strong. A stronger heart means a lower resting heart rate, meaning it doesn’t need to work as hard when you’re not exercising.
As you continue a cardio routine and your exercise ability improves, it can also improve the function and performance of your lungs. For those with chronic lung problems, this is especially good news, as it can help reduce fatigue and shortness of breath.
This sort of exercise helps to improve “good” cholesterol levels (called HDL), lowers “bad” cholesterol levels (called LDL), and can help to control blood sugar.
Hard working muscles
Cardio increases oxygen supply to your muscles, which allows them to work harder and, eventually, allows them to adapt to working harder, which can help make everyday activities seem easier — so climbing stairs and lugging groceries will be easy peasy. And all this increased oxygen to your muscles can also help improve the muscle repair and rebuilding process, meaning that you’ll soon be less sore after hitting the gym and able to get back that much sooner.
A release of endorphins helps to give you more good — and lasting — energy throughout the day.
Improves brain function
Lots of good news for your noggin! Cardio improves memory and thinking ability, combats age-related decline in brain functioning, and helps protect against Alzheimer’s. And because cardio increases blood flow, it can decrease your chance of stroke.
Decreases anxiety and stress
Stressed at the thought of taking on a new cardio workout? Cardio actually releases hormones that help fight stress and tension — like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine — and can help you feel good. So keep calm and cardio on!
With these stress-busting strengths in mind, it may come as no surprise that cardio can boost your mood in other ways too, like combatting depression and improving self-esteem.
As long as you don’t engage in super rigorous exercise right before bedtime, cardio can also help you sleep better — no sheep-counting required! It can help you sleep faster after hitting the pillow and also promotes very important REM sleep.
Improved sexual function
More good news for between the sheets? Cardio can lead to enhanced sexual arousal for women and decreases the odds of sexual disfunction in men.
Increased metabolism and healthy weight
Not only does this type of exercise get your heart rate going, it also increases the rate of a number of other processes in the body — your metabolism. And an increased metabolism means an easier time maintaining a healthy weight.
Healthy bones and joints
Cardio can help your bones and joints now and even years into the future. If you suffer from arthritis, it can help to maintain range of motion and manage discomfort. It can also fight osteoporosis, reducing chances for a hip fracture down the road.
Even more benefits
Can cardio even keep your skin clear? With increased circulation — could be! And who doesn’t want a healthy pancreas? Because cardio can help control blood sugar and decrease stress on the pancreas, this can help reduce your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. And for those who have diabetes, cardio can help manage the condition for these very same reasons. Cardio can also help prevent or reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Many studies show that regular cardio can even help you live longer!
How much cardio do you need?
With all of these benefits, you probably either feel really good about the cardio you’re already doing or might feel moved to start a new cardio routine today — which is great! For most adults, you should aim for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. But cardio is best when used in balance with resistance training and flexibility training. So be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new routine so you can figure out what’s right for you and your own unique medical needs. Are you diabetic? Do you have PCOS? Are you anemic? Have you not worked out in more years than you can remember? Because cardio is meant to work your heart, lungs, and circulatory system — no small feat — you’ll want to know what kind is best for you before you lace up those sneakers and hit the ground running.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Aerobic exercise: Top 10 reasons to get physical.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, February 24 2017. Retrieved December 15 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/aerobic-exercise/art-20045541?pg=1.
- “Cardio 101: Benefits and tips.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved December 15 2017. http://diet.mayoclinic.org/diet/move/cardio-101.
- “From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, February 2 2016. Retrieved December 15 2017. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2016/02/head-toe-benefits-cardio-workout-infographic/.
- “Staying Active: Physical Activity and Exercise: FAQ045.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, November 2016. Retrieved December 15 2017. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Staying-Active-Physical-Activity-and-Exercise.