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by Katie Hoehn October 03, 2022 6 min read

When it comes to taking care of our health, we all have an idea of what we should be doing.

Eat right. Exercise. Drink water. Get good sleep. But, most of us have also been told that if we want to stay in great shape and lose body fat ... we have to do plenty of cardio.

Yes and no.

You definitely have to do some cardio if you want to stay in good cardiovascular shape. But when referring to staying in great shape or losing body fat ... no, you don't HAVE TO do cardio.

I think a lot of people are confused by what cardio is and the true benefits it has to offer.

I hope this article clears up any confusion surrounding cardio and its benefits for your overall health.

WHAT IS CARDIO?

“Cardio” is short for cardiovascular activity. Cardio is any type of exercise that gets your blood pumping and your heart rate elevated.

Often, cardio is referred to as aerobic exercise, because it relies on the body's ability to use oxygen as fuel for these workouts.

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Whether you're walking around the block or doing a sprint ... they are both considered cardio. Believe me when I say … there is definitely no shortage of cardio activities you can do:

• Swimming
• Biking
• Running
• Sports
• Hiking
• Rock Climbing

...and these are just a few of the most popular forms of cardio.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) actually recommends you to do either 150 minutes of moderate cardio a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous cardio a week.

So, there’s no doubt that cardio is important. But, let’s talk about why this is, and the many benefits that can come from regular cardio training.

Physical Health Benefits of Cardio Exercise

Cardio offers your body a wide variety of both physical and mental benefits. You'll be amazed by just how much this simple activity impacts nearly every aspect of your health!

Boost Your Heart Health

You may have guessed this one: cardio is essential if you want to take care of your heart, especially as we age. Having high blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic. When this happens, less blood (carrying oxygen and nutrients) can flow to the heart.

This can cause a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm and metabolic syndrome.

Cardiovascular exercise in general can help lower your risk of heart disease. It does this by strengthening cardiac muscle ... which can help pump blood through your body more efficiently.

Worried about your blood pressure? Cardio can help reduce your blood pressure by raising your good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering your bad cholesterol (LDL) ... ultimately keeping your arteries clear of plaque buildup.

So really, cardio can play a pretty big role in the health of your heart.

Strengthen Your Immune System

Your immune system is working hard around the clock to fight off infections and keep your body well ... this is something that cardio can help keep in check!

By doing cardio, you increase the number of antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are known as immunoglobulins, and help support the immune system.

It seems that, like the saying implies ... exercise really can be medicine. If you want to keep your immune system healthy, adding in some daily cardio could be just the trick.

Improve Your Sleep and Energy Levels

Cardio can help you sleep sound at night. No, not only because you physically exert yourself … but also because it releases endorphins and boosts your serotonin levels.

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These endorphins can help the brain relax and unwind at night. On top of that, higher serotonin levels may also help regulate your sleep cycles.

A systematic review in 2017 even concluded that exercise can increase sleep efficiency and duration regardless of the intensity and mode of exercise [4].

I personally know I had a great cardio session when I have more energy and focus throughout the day ... and more restful sleep at night!

Regulate Your Blood Sugar

Cardio is also a great tool which can help with better regulating blood sugar levels.

This can help you maintain a hold on your long-term health. Keeping your blood sugar in check can affect your cholesterol, energy, and food cravings.

Even if you want to manage your weight better, blood sugar regulation should be a priority!

Take Care of Your Weight, Skin and Muscles

Cardio can help most people lose weight … but it’s more effective when paired with resistance training and a nutritious diet [5]. In other words, you have to look at the big picture before saying "cardio will make you lose weight".

Cardio can, however, help with promoting beautiful skin. It can also help with muscular performance because of the increased oxygen supply.

This means you can work harder at the gym and increase your muscular endurance over time.

Better Joint Movement

As the saying goes, a body in motion stays in motion. Cardio goes far beyond just helping you stay in shape ... it's also great for long-term joint health.

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Regular cardiovascular exercise can help fight against osteoporosis, arthritic pain, and ultimately help preserve a good range of motion for your joints.

One of my personal goals is to be able to keep up with my kids ... and their kids someday too! Cardiovascular exercise just makes sure to keep me moving and mobile!

MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF CARDIO

One of my favorite benefits of cardio is its impact on mental health. Along with taking care of your body, cardio can help you regulate your mood and improve your mental health by taking care of your brain.

Protects Brain Tissue

Cardio is known for improving our memory skills and our ability to function - especially as we age!

Cardio has actually been shown to stimulate the formation of new nerve cells and blood vessels in the brain [6]! This increases the part of the brain that’s associated with language. Another study found that endurance exercise specifically was found to increase the amount of white matter in your brain, which helps with memory [7].

Natural Mood Booster

Remember how endorphins and serotonin levels increase when we do cardio?

Well, these chemicals and hormones don't just help you sleep better ... they can also reduce stress and improve your mood.

Feeling down? Take a walk! Exercise has a mood-boosting effect that can help with anxiety and stress by releasing tension-fighting hormones, like dopamine and norepinephrine.

CONVINCED TO DO CARDIO?

If you need to ease into cardio, remember that something as simple as yard work or walking can suffice as a cardio session. You can almost always find an easy way to incorporate cardio into your everyday life.

Make it fun! Biking, swimming, boxing … heck, go play basketball or join a softball league with your friends.

Regardless of what your reason is for adopting some more cardio … we’re here to help! Whether you just have a few questions, or you need more hands-on help with reaching your goals … we’ve got you covered.

Our team of Certified Personal Trainers (NASM-CPT), Certified Nutrition Coaches (NASM-CPT), or even one of our dietitians, like myself, here at 1st Phorm HQ is happy to help.

Customer Service - 1st Phorm

References

[1] Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019 May;8(3):201-217. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009. Epub 2018 Nov 16. PMID: 31193280; PMCID: PMC6523821.

[2] da Silveira MP, da Silva Fagundes KK, Bizuti MR, Starck É, Rossi RC, de Resende E Silva DT. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med. 2021 Feb;21(1):15-28. doi: 10.1007/s10238-020-00650-3. Epub 2020 Jul 29. PMID: 32728975; PMCID: PMC7387807.

[3] Denay, Keri L. MD, FACSM1; Breslow, Rebecca G. MD2; Turner, Meredith N. MD3; Nieman, David C. DrPH, FACSM4; Roberts, William O. MD, MS, FACSM5; Best, Thomas M. MD, PhD, FACSM6. ACSM Call to Action Statement: COVID-19 Considerations for Sports and Physical Activity. Current Sports Medicine Reports: August 2020 - Volume 19 - Issue 8 - p 326-328. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000739

[4] Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. doi: 10.1155/2017/1364387. Epub 2017 Mar 26. Erratum in: Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510. PMID: 28458924; PMCID: PMC5385214.

[5] Donnelly JE, Honas JJ, Smith BK, Mayo MS, Gibson CA, Sullivan DK, Lee J, Herrmann SD, Lambourne K, Washburn RA. Aerobic exercise alone results in clinically significant weight loss for men and women: midwest exercise trial 2. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Mar;21(3):E219-28. doi: 10.1002/oby.20145. PMID: 23592678; PMCID: PMC3630467.

[6] Segaert, K., Lucas, S.J.E., Burley, C.V. et al. Higher physical fitness levels are associated with less language decline in healthy ageing. Sci Rep 8, 6715 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-24972-1

[7] Opel, N., Martin, S., Meinert, S. et al. White matter microstructure mediates the association between physical fitness and cognition in healthy, young adults. Sci Rep 9, 12885 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49301-y

Katie Hoehn
Katie Hoehn

Katie Hoehn is a Registered Dietitian, and MyTransPHORMation Advisor at 1st Phorm.