The stereotype is that when men go to the gym, they lift weights, and when women go to the gym, they go on the treadmill. That stereotype is harmful to both genders. Cardio and strength training exercises are both important for overall health.
Strength training is important because it builds muscle and improves bone density.1,2 As you get older, strength training can help prevent the loss of lean body mass, keeping your daily energy burn up and thereby helping stop middle-age spread, the weight gain commonly-seen in those who are of a certain age.3
Cardio, on the other hand, is important for heart health and is what gives you the energy to keep up with your kids, run for the bus, and generally lead a busy and active lifestyle. Cardiovascular exercise can also help reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, and heart disease.4
Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise
Most individuals are aware that they need to exercise, drink lots of water, get plenty of sleep, eat fruit and vegetables, and do numerous other things to take care of overall health. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to wonder where you would find the time to fit all of this in.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend endless hours on the treadmill to become more healthy. There is a clear distinction between exercising for the purpose of sporting performance and exercising for health. It takes regular and sustained exercise to improve your fitness from one level to the next, however, when you are starting from a low baseline, only a small amount of exercise will provide significant benefits. Even just 15 minutes a day is enough to improve your health and greatly reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.5
Cardio Can Be Fun
If you grew up during the 70s and 80s and were bombarded with messages about the fat burning zone, then you might have a subconscious hatred of cardio because it’s hard to keep your heart rate up for long periods of time when you’re not experienced. Additionally, it can be boring to run around a track or sit on a bike for an hour at a time. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that because you don’t want to exercise like that, you shouldn’t bother exercising at all. Short but intense workouts can be just as good.
The Catabolism Myth
Another common misconception about cardio is that if you do cardiovascular exercise, you are putting yourself into a catabolic state where your body is eating its own muscle to feed itself. Many gym goers believe that if they try to lift weights and do cardio, they are wasting their time because they are just undoing all of the hard-earned gains through cardiovascular exercise.
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As with many misconceptions in the health and fitness industry, there is a small amount of truth to this but solid science has been taken and twisted beyond all use. The truth is that if you are following a sensible diet and exercising in moderation, you will not notice adverse effects.
Studies into the effects of aerobic training, resistance training, and a combination of both varieties in obese adults found that those who combine resistance training and aerobic training can still gain lean mass.6 Cardiovascular exercise will not make you weaker if you do it in moderation while eating a sensible diet.
Exercise and Mental Health
One often-overlooked benefit of cardiovascular exercise is that it can help improve your mental health. Exercise has been found to prompt the release of feel-good endorphins because it promotes circulation to the brain and can influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).7
The end result is that cardiovascular exercise can make you feel happier, more alert, and less anxious. It can help you sleep better too.
Fitting Exercise into Your Routine
The U.S. Government’s Physical Activity Guidelines say that any amount of activity is better than being completely sedentary, but that adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, aiming for around 300 minutes—or five hour— if possible, with some muscle-strengthening activity at least twice a week.8
You can get that activity in any form that you wish. Taking the dog for a brisk walk counts as light exercise, and playing a sport like soccer or basketball is more fun than going for a run for a lot of people. Alternatively, you may want to take up a martial art or even join a group exercise class instead of simply going to the gym.
The important part is finding an exercise that is fun for you. If you enjoy it and are motivated to do it, then you will be more likely to stick with and reap the health benefits.
If you cannot take part in scheduled exercise classes, then another option is to work out at home to exercise videos. There are plenty of free videos online that have simple exercises that you can do at home or in a hotel room with no special equipment required. Get up a little earlier than normal to exercise, and you will enjoy a mental boost that will last for the rest of the day, making you more productive and happier.
As you get older, it becomes more important for you to engage in activities that include strength and balance training. Keeping your muscles strong and your joints supple and mobile will help you avoid a lot of the difficulties that people tend to experience as they age. If you have an injury or a chronic condition, then it is important that you respect that and work around the limitations it creates so that you can remain as active as your condition allows.
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