9 Amazing Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

March 19, 2023

9 Amazing Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

You know your cardio workout is good for your heart, right? After all, it’s front and center in the name: cardio, from the Latinized form of the Greek word kardia. But did you know that regularly getting your heart rate up has surprising benefits, not only for your heart, but for the rest of you as well? In fact, your entire body benefits from regular cardio activity.

Along with reducing your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attack, your cardio workout is also helping your entire body from head to toe. Let’s get a closer look at how this works.

Brain

Because cardio exercise strengthens your heart, it increases circulation throughout your body, including blood flow to your brain. Your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that controls your ability to interpret, organize, and act on information, relies on a steady supply of freshly oxygenated blood to nurture its cells (neurons) and to sweep away waste materials. A good circulatory supply also maintains neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to change as you learn and try new things.

Memory

Regular cardio exercise can reduce your risk of developing types of dementia. That’s probably because it reduces your risk of developing health issues that are directly linked to dementia, like depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In addition, increasing your brain’s blood supply helps to prevent vascular dementia, a type of dementia caused by a reduction in blood flow to the brain.

Mood

A regular cardio workout can keep the blues away. In fact, it is often recommended as a component in the treatment for depression and anxiety, and to lower stress levels. Cardio activity positively impacts the hippocampus, which manages emotion, and may help slow the breakdown of brain cells. It also prompts the release of the stress-reducing chemicals oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. In response to cardiovascular exercise, your brain releases brain chemicals known as endorphins, natural feel-good compounds that are remarkably similar to those found in cannabis, as well as other natural compounds that work to enhance your wellbeing.

Immunity

Cardio workouts help boost your immune system by improving the circulation of germ-busting substances in your blood. Vigorous cardio exercise also helps to rid your lungs and airways of bacteria, helping to decrease your chances of getting a cold or flu.

Sleep

A natural sleep aid, regular cardio exercise helps regulate your sleep cycle, helps you fall asleep faster, and promotes REM sleep. Research shows that aerobic cardio exercise increases the amount of restful slow wave sleep as well. Plus, the previously mentioned benefits of sleep on mood contribute to a better night’s sleep. But for many people, exercising too close to bedtime can prevent getting to sleep, so plan your cardio for earlier in the day.

Weight

Cardio exercise burns fat and calories for healthy weight loss. Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential for good health. However, you have to exercise a lot to burn any significant amount of calories. The main benefit in terms of weight loss is the afterburn effect.  After exercise, your body begines to use more fat and less carbs. Plus, hormones that are released during your workout remain elevated in your bloodstream for some time afterward, working to increase your metabolism.

Blood

A regular cardio workout helps lower blood glucose levels, and improves the body’s insulin resistance in diabetics, plus helps your body use insulin more efficiently even if you are not diabetic. Insulin is produced by your pancreas and, among other functions, it signals your cells to “open their gates” to allow blood sugar (glucose) into the cells where it is used for fuel. Insulin also signals your body to store excess glucose as fat.  Cardio also lowers “bad” cholesterol and raises “good” cholesterol, resulting in stronger, healthier arteries.

Lungs

A good cardio workout gets your lungs pumping. Regularly exercising your lungs helps improve breathing and delivers more oxygen to your lungs. Cardio also makes your lungs more efficient at removing carbon dioxide, the waste product of your body’s metabolism.  Exercise expands your lung capacity, and reduces fatigue and shortness of breath and makes everyday activities feel easier and more enjoyable.

Bones/joints

The movement of a cardio workout helps decrease the pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis. Low impact cardio exercise such as swimming is great for your heart and lungs, but it’s weight bearing cardio that helps with the resistance created by your body weight to help ward off osteoporosis. The weight control benefit of cardio workouts also helps with joint pain, as losing extra weight will relieve pressure on your joints.

How much should you exercise to benefit?

The standard recommendation is at least 150 minutes per week, which divides nicely into 30 minutes, 5 days per week. With cardio activity, you reap more benefits from slightly longer workouts. If you’re new to cardio, start slowly and work your way up to 45-60 minutes per day for best results.  Within a few months you’ll see and feel the difference, from head to toe.

If you are one of the many people who hate to exercise, a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine in  December, 2022 showed that the people who incorporated just three sessions of short one to two minute bursts of intense activity, such as very fast walking, three times a day into their routine had a substantial reduction in chances of death from any cause, as well as a marked decrease in risk of dying from both cardiovascular disease and cancer. Saying you don’t have time to exercise is not a valid excuse anymore!



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