We all know that cardio exercise is good for us, but do you understand why?
What are the benefits of cardio and how often should you do it?
Cardio exercise. Love it or hate it we all know that we should be doing it.
But whether you are a keen runner or a chilled-out rower, do you know what your commitment to your chosen exercise is doing for your body – and your mind?
You’re probably aware that cardio is good for your heart, but do you know how far reaching the positives of a strong heart can be? And what of the other benefits of cardio for things like your sleep patterns and whether you are optimising your brain power to its fullest?
You may be surprised by the number of ways in which cardiovascular exercise bolsters our overall health and well-being.
14 Benefits of Cardio Exercise
The upside of cardio workouts is well-documented and includes:
- Improves Cardiovascular Health – It’s there in the name. Cardio is short for cardiovascular, so you would expect the benefits of cardio to include a boost to the bodies circulatory system. Many of the following points relate back to this first one.
- Strengthens Your Heart – And can actually help to fight some forms of heart disease and reduces the risk of stroke.
- Improves Blood Flow – This is connected to having a stronger heart. Better blood flow can assist in regulating blood pressure and can even lower high blood pressure.
- Good for Weight Loss – A raised heart rate and all the things that that leads to in your body burns calories.
- Increases Lung Capacity – So more oxygen gets into your bloodstream and your body is generally more efficient.
- Improves Sleep – A body that has been worked effectively and to the best of its capabilities during the day will rest better at night. If you’d like to know about the importance of sleep, see here.
- Boosts Mental Health – Both the chemicals released into our bodies when we exercise and the buzz we get from having done something that we know is good for us result in a more positive mental state. And if you do your cardio outside, you probably get the added bonus of communing with nature as well.
- Improves Cognition – this can happen in 2 ways.
- Your heart races, blood is pumped around your body at a faster rate and more oxygen gets to your brain.
- Exercise encourages the production of growth hormones that make new brain cells.
- Boosts Your Energy Levels – rather than drinking caffeinated drinks to ‘wake up’ in the morning, a burst of cardio gets endorphins moving round our bodies and they boost our energy levels – naturally.
- Strengthens Your Immune System – Exercising makes the infection fighting white bloods cells and antibodies in your blood travel around your body faster, allowing them to do their job more efficiently.
- Cuts the Risk of Many Diseases – Getting your heart pumping effectively, your lungs working at their capacity and your blood flying around your body delivering oxygen and white bloods cells where needed means that one of the major benefits of cardio is reduced risk of diseases like: high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and some cancers.
- Can Reduce Chronic Pain – Gentler, low-impact forms of cardio (like swimming) can improve muscle function which can result in less pain. Always check with your doctor or physiotherapist first to see what is recommended for you.
- Improves Balance and Co-ordination – Keeping your body strong and moving and getting blood flowing to your brain can be particularly good for older people. Being more agile and having better balance as we get older also means less likelihood of debilitating (or even fatal) falls.
- Easy to Access & Cheap – Whilst a gym may offer state of the art treadmills and spin classes, you can reap the benefits of cardio by simply running on the spot or taking a quick walk around the streets where you live.
How Much Cardio Exercise and How Often?
Whatever kind of cardio you do, the World Health Organisation advises that you should grin and bear it for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Recommendations about how frequently you do it and to what intensity vary.
If you favour something like walking briskly, then 150-300 minutes a week is good. If you prefer a more intense workout like jumping rope, hitting that rowing machine, or performing burpees the goal is 75-150 minutes.
In a perfect world, it may well be a good idea to attempt a mix of both intense and gentler cardio workouts across your schedule.
In our companion article, we have highlighted the best cardio exercises to improve aerobic capacity and get your heart pumping. The post suggests a mixture of low- and high-intensity cardio workouts that can all be done at home.
And how often? 5 times a week seems to be a sensible goal, though with cardio workouts you can feasibly do them every day, as long as you aren’t feeling too sore or have an injury.