What You Need to Know About Cardio & Ways to Make it Work for You
Cardio, short for cardiovascular, is the common way of referring to aerobic exercise. This type of working out, when paired with a good diet and a strength training program, helps us to raise our heart rate, burn fat, and build endurance. Whether you chose to walk with friends, join a gym, take a spin class, try water aerobics, dance, hike, bike, run, or play a few games of tennis, whatever cardio activity you enjoy you’re encouraged frequently to be sure to get in at least 30 minutes a day… but why?
Why do cardio?
- Increase the heart and lung efficiency and endurance
- Reduce resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduce the risk for heart disease
- Boost your metabolism
- Weight management – burn calories and fat (must also include strength training and healthy diet)
- Boost immune system
- Improve your energy
With so many healthy benefits it’s no wonder we’re encouraged to incorporate cardio into our daily lives. But have you ever wondered what’s happening to your body while you’re getting that heart-pounding workout? Here are a few things to know:
- Heart Rate is the measure of the number of times per minute that the left ventricle pumps the blood into the aorta, and then into the system. As exercise increases, the body’s need for oxygen increases. The heart must increase the flow of oxygen rich blood to the working muscles by increasing the number of heart beats per minute. With exercise, the heart rate goes up.
- Stroke Volume refers to the volume of blood that is pumped with each beat. The more blood that can be pumped, the more oxygen that will be available to the system. As the body adapts to CRE conditioning (cardio-respiratory endurance), it will increase the stroke volume.
- Cardiac Output (Q) refers to the measure of the heart’s capabilities. Cardiac output indicates the amount of blood which is sent into the system in liters per minute. Q = stroke volume x heart rate
- VO2Max is the measure of the highest volume of oxygen a person can consume during strenuous exercise or work. This improves with CRE training.
- CRE training – Cardio-Respiratory Endurance – is the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen during continuous exercise, involving large muscle groups.
- Cardiovascular system – the heart and circulatory system
Cardio and Weight Loss
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to run or do high-impact aerobics to lose weight. Find a cardio activity that works for you and your level of fitness, even if it’s just power walking at a fast past, the key is to work towards your target heart rate to achieve results. Think of weight loss this way: One pound of weight is 3500 calories. If you increase your cardio by 30-45 minutes a day and then eliminate 250 calories from your diet per day, you will safely burn 500 calories/day to lose 1-2 lbs. per week.
Cardio is not the only way to burn calories, strength training is also important! The more muscle mass you have the more calories you are burning at rest. If you do not strength/resistance train, one-third of what you lose is lost in the muscle. Therefore, cardio combined with strength training is excellent for overall weight management and weight loss. What’s even more important is a healthy diet. Diet and exercise go hand in hand, you cannot eat whatever you want after a workout, or you may not lose the weight you hope to. Balance is the key to losing weight, and for an exercise program to stay healthy.
What is a “Runner’s High?”
You may have heard the term a “runners high” perhaps from a dedicated runner, or you, yourself, may have felt a lot of energy after your boot camp or aerobic/cardio class. This is due to chemicals in the body called endorphins that are released after a great workout. They make you feel energized, euphoric, and act somewhat like analgesics.
Oxygenated blood, which goes through a gas exchange in the lungs, during your aerobic stage of your workout, gets pumped back through the left side of your heart out the aorta into the extremities…leaving you feeling revived and refreshed!
Ways to get your cardio on:
I recommend getting your cardio by trying group fitness classes such as step aerobics, dance classes, indoor cycling, cardio circuit classes, and boot camps. They are great for conditioning the heart, weight management and weight bearing, learning balance, coordination, rhythm, and spacial awareness. Most classes are 60 minutes long and allow you to burn from 350-500 calories, sometimes more, depending on the format.
Jimmy Gorman, exercise specialist and fellow trainer at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, recommends indoor workouts on an upright bike, elliptical, bosu trainer and stair master trainer. Jimmy uses circuit and interval training, alternating high intensity exercise with low intensity recovery/rest periods. Try 10-15 minutes on each piece of equipment such as upright bike, elliptical and stair master, treadmill (you can also do elliptical). This is great because it breaks up the routine and the time flies by!
Gold Medal Olympian, Misty Hyman says that swimming is a very beneficial form of cardio. It works the entire body without the stress of impact on the joints which is great if you have an injury. It can also simultaneously be a meditation, because there is a rhythmic breathing pattern, the sound of the water rushing past the ears, and the feeling of weightlessness. Plus, swimming is an exercise that can be done at any age.
Steve Kramer, triathlete and Iron Man, loves running and biking outdoors. Steve started getting in shape years ago with running and loved it so much that he became an Iron Man, triathlete, and marathon runner. He began winning competitions and now dedicated to training others. He says “you have to know how to gauge yourself for some down time and to prevent injuries on knees, ankles, and lower back.”
Ways to prevent injuries:
- Cross training with core work, to strengthen the spine and of course proper foot wear is vital to support joints, foot and ankle health
- Visit an athletic footwear store to purchase the proper running shoe
- Assisted sports stretch and massage also keep muscles flexible after training and help to prevent injury
- Proper body mechanics and alignment to safely and effectively perform your class or workout
- If you are just trying out running for the first time, running on a treadmill or track has a lower impact on the joints
Recommendations for Cardiovascular component of a Weight Management program*:
- Frequency: A minimum of 3-5 times per week (ideally 6-7 days per week)
- Intensity: 60-90 percent of the Maximum Heart Rate
- Duration: 20 – 60 minutes of cardio per session (continuous activity)
- Program/Type: Low impact, activities that utilize large muscle groups of the body
- Find a cardio program that works for you!
*Always seek the advice of your health care provider before starting any exercise program