Cardiovascular Exercise: A Breakdown

Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio for short, is something that literally everyone can benefit from. In many cases, physicians recommend cardio over resistance exercise. In fact, if you’ve ever been to physical therapy for building up a muscle, joint, or getting rid of a bodily pain, they suggest more cardiovascular exercises to perform than resistance at first. As time progresses, the amounts of both cardio and resistance exercises will even out. But the main purpose of why cardio is good for you is a reason why they begin with it.

Cardiovascular has one baseline goal: to strengthen the heart. Some may be raising an eyebrow and thinking, “How does running strengthen my heart if my legs receive the most work?” Let me put this into a different perspective.

Anatomy Time: The Most Vital Muscle

The human body houses 5.6 liters of blood. It pumps blood roughly 12,000 miles in one day. This is when a healthy resting heart rate ranges from 60-100 bpm (beats per minute). Keep in mind that this is the adults vital sign. Children have a higher resting heart rate. This is due to their rapid growth and the need for more oxygen to support growth. So don’t be surprised if you check their pulse and have a steady rate of over 100.

Having a higher resting heart beat can be cause of stress level, medications, infection, fitness level, and body size. If you have a higher resting heart rate than 100 (noticeably higher), several health factors could be involved. Obesity and cholesterol are major factors. Cholesterol is a substance that builds up in arteries, constricting flow, and consequently causing you heart to work harder.

Your heart pumps oxygen rich blood to every organ in your body. The more activity you perform, the faster it beats and harder it works. Your lungs are included in the list of vital organs. The two work hand in hand really.

The longer you keep your heart  rate above the average rate via exercise, the more you strengthen it. Keep in mind it’s still a muscle and to not overdo it.

The Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

Apart from strengthening the heart, cardio has other characteristics that benefit you.

Speeding up your metabolism is one. When you do 15-20 minutes on a random workout program on the treadmill, gazelle, stair-master, etc, your metabolic rate of burning off calories and carbohydrates for energy increases. This is mainly do to the fact that the muscles being used need energy which in turn is derived from glycogen stores as well as some subconscious fat. Once your workout is done, your body is naturally craving energy to resupply the lost glycogen. The main derivation is from food (obviously).  This is why it’s recommended a high carbohydrate and caloric meal (often a protein shake) is ingested within 30 minutes after your finished. We’ll discuss post workout meals later on.

Stripping off fat is another reason others opt for the cardio equipment. As I just mentioned, when you get 15-20 minutes in on a routine, your muscles need energy to keep you going. While glycogen stores are the first place your body opts for, fat is next on the list.

The two places fat resides that people find it difficult to lose from is the lower abdomen and the inner thighs. By keeping your heart working and body moving, your body will naturally look for fat cells for energy throughout the body to use as fuel.

Increasing your endurance is another key thing people use cardio for. I have personally found running a mile or two on the treadmill three times a week has allowed my endurance to increase over the past three years. I found this exceptionally helpful when the annual Marine Corps Personal Fitness Test (PFT) comes around.

Cleaning out the toxins may sound harsh but it’s the truth. When performing an exercise to get blood flowing and keeping it flowing, the cycle will in a way clean you out. By this is mean it will cycle through your body and filter waste products out. By keeping your blood flowing, the oxygen rich blood that you breath in will replenish the muscle tissue and cells. This gives them energy and power to heal quicker. This is what people mean by “getting a new rush of blood to your muscles.”

Set small goals for yourself. A good example is try to keep a steady pace but add a quarter mile to your run time. That or add another 30 seconds to the stair-master. Once you meet one goal, make another one.Make sure that the short-term goal is within reach. Making sure of this will keep you from getting discouraged with yourself.

Cardiovascular exercise has and always will be important. Regardless if it’s walking through the park or running a marathon, it can always serve a positive purpose.

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