Cycling. Running. Dancing. Hiking. Kickboxing. When it comes to cardiovascular exercises, the options are endless to improve your overall quality of life.
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When part of an overall heart-healthy lifestyle, not only can regular cardio exercise lead to creases in your resting blood pressure and heart rate, but these basic changes can also mean your heart doesn’t have to work unnecessarily hard all of the time, says clinical exercise physiologist Erik Van Iterson, PhD, MS.
But how often should you do cardio to reap the health benefits? The American Heart Association recommends achieving at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity heart-pumping exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise spread out over most days of the week.
“Try getting in a 30-minute workout five or more days a week that raises your heart rate for the duration of the activity,” says Dr. Van Iterson. “Or try three, 10-minute workouts, five or more days a week.”
The benefits of cardio go beyond just your heart. Dr. Van Iterson explains how it affects your entire body:
1. Brain and joints
Cardio exercise can benefit brain and joint health. One study reported that physical activity may reduce dementia risk, no matter what age you are. Other benefits include:
- Increases blood flow and decreases chances of stroke.
- Improves memory and thinking ability.
- Combats decline in brain functioning with age.
- Helps protect against developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Fights osteoporosis and reduces chances for a hip fracture.
- Helps manage arthritis discomfort and maintains joint range of motion.
2. Skin, muscles and weight
No matter how you choose to move, being active helps increase circulation, which leads to clearer, healthier skin. Other health benefits can go much deeper than just your skin, too.
When you work your muscles, it increases oxygen supply, therefore allowing muscles to work harder. Over time, regular cardio exercise allows your muscles to adapt to an increased workload, making regular activities seem easier.
When paired with a heart-healthy nutrition plan, safe weight loss comes with doing regular cardio exercise. Not only are you less likely to develop diseases like diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, but your body can more easily circulate blood. Less sitting time and more physical activity also helps you maintain a healthy weight by burning more calories throughout the day.
3. Pancreas, lungs and blood
Your pancreas is the organ that helps convert the food you eat for energy while also helping aid in digestion. Staying active helps improves blood sugar control, decreases stress on this vital organ and reduces your chance of developing type 2 diabetes. It also helps improves good cholesterol levels while lowering blood fats.
“Your lungs are also positively affected by physical activity,” says Dr. Van Iterson. “Cardio helps decrease how frequently you have to breathe as exercise ability improves and can lead to reductions in fatigue and shortness of breath in chronic lung problems.”
4. Sexual function
Did you know that your favorite physical activity helps sexual function? It’s true — it decreases the chances of erectile dysfunction in men and leads to enhanced arousal for women.
One study reported that staying active improves erectile function and proved to be a protective factor against erectile problems, while another study found that positive body image and psychological health due to exercise increased sexual well-being in women.
Our moods fluctuate on a daily basis but staying active helps boost your mood, especially after a stressful day. So next time you’re feeling stressed or you’re having an off day, get to moving your body.
“Not only that, but it combats depression, improves your self-esteem and releases tension-fighting hormones like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine,” says Dr. Van Iterson.
6. Sleep and energy
There’s a reason why you feel amazing after a workout. Physical exercise helps your energy by releasing endorphins, giving you more, lasting energy throughout your day. When it comes to hitting the sheets, struggling to fall asleep is the last thing you want after that long, busy day. The good news is that cardio helps you doze off faster and promotes REM sleep.
“Make sure to avoid rigorous exercise too close to bed or you’ll be too energized to count sheep,” warns Dr. Van Iterson.
Grab your workout clothes and throw on your sneakers, you’ll not only boost your immune system — helping you steer clear of the cold or flu — but by improving your cardiorespiratory fitness, you can also increase your chance of living longer.