I recently read a great post that addressed the idea of why people don’t like exercise or working out.  The answer?  They’re doing it wrong.  How?  In most cases, it’s starting out too fast or too intense.  Your body likes to move in the right ways, but we tend to force it for whatever reason (goals, previous achievements, pride, etc.).  This is surely a recipe for failure, inconsistency, and hatred of exercise. 

Exercise, and in this context, cardio, should be fun and enjoyable most of the time.  This is no guarantee that you’ll love every single session you have, but for the most part the sessions will leave you feeling better, happier, more energetic, and accomplished/proud of what you did.

So what’s going wrong?

Even with a multitude of cardio options available to us today, only 1 in 3 Americans is hitting the minimum recommendations for activity.  For largely preventable health issues via reasonable amounts of exercise and moderate diets, it seems people are willing to suffer the consequences and get stuck with the bill.  This needs to change.  So let’s talk about health consequences, cardiovascular exercise, and cardio options that you can incorporate into your life.

Part 4 of the 5 Components of Fitness : Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardio Options - Running

Health consequences of physical inactivity

Disease

Physical inactivity has long been associated with several health consequences (1).  Some of the most common and serious health consequences of physical inactivity include:

  • cardiovascular disease, or heart disease
    • Risk factors for CVD
      • high blood pressure
      • smoking
      • abnormal blood sugar
      • high cholesterol
      • obesity
      • high stress
      • high fat/high calorie diet
  • metabolic syndrome (including obesity and abnormal blood cholesterol levels)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • breast and colon cancer
  • depression
  • heart attack and stroke (via atherosclerosis)

Expense

In 2015, the CDC published this article that measured the financial cost of being physically active and insufficiently physically active against the cost for those individuals who were active.

Active was defined as engaging in 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity per week or more.

Cost was measured by the amount of direct medical expenditures including expenditures for all services: inpatient, outpatient, emergency room, office-based, dental, vision, home health, prescription drug, and other.

What they found was that people who are physically active incur expenses to the tune of $1,437 MORE than their physically active counterparts.  The insufficiently active only incurred $713 more than their physically active counterparts (5).

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Cardiovascular exercise and health

With such a strong correlation to physical inactivity, health complications, and cost, why aren’t we making a bigger deal about this?

Prevention

Research tells us that by simply engaging in a minimal amount of physical activity (2.5 hours/week as prescribed by the AHA), we can cut the risk of premature death down by 20-35% (2).  That is a staggering statistic. Who wouldn’t jump at the idea of decreasing their risk of premature death by 35%?

Physical activity has also been shown to reduce type 2 diabetes, osteoporotic fractures, some cancers, and depression (4).

Another study found that the bigger predictors of decreased risk of death are volume and intensity of cardiovascular exercise.  Meaning that you can spend long amounts of time walking at a slow pace, or you can intensify your exercise and decrease your exercise duration.  Efficiency!

Prescription

The reason that only 1 in 3 Americans are engaging in physical activity is because it’s just not something that our bodies want to do.  Our bodies are designed like a business: cut unnecessary expenses and maximally increase profit (where expenses are your energy output for the day, and profit is your energy input for the day).

Remember, our bodies have, for more time than not, fought to keep us alive against all odds.  They’re a bit predisposed to thinking we won’t get food again.  On top of that, we’ve been forced into exercise via survival and food availability.  This is no longer an issue and it’s causing a multitude of health problems because of it.

This is an explanation, not an excuse.  Now more than ever, it is so important for us to make time and effort for cardio.

The AHA recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours per week, or about 30 minutes a day of moderate to intense exercise.  This is dependent upon your fitness level however, because this is a fairly low standard.  If you are more fit, you don’t need to reduce your exercise level, but if you are under this standard, it would behoove you to try and meet it.

The only logical method of forward progress is to be our own instigator of survival.  We must adopt the need for physical activity and be disciplined, habitual, and regimented with it’s inclusion in our daily life.

Cardio Options for Health

Current Methods

There are a whole host of options for cardio exercise, it’s simply a matter of finding the one that you really enjoy and can continue for the remainder of your life.

The biggest thing that sets cardio apart from other forms of exercise is the rise and maintenance of an elevated heart rate during said exercise.  This can be accomplished with almost any physical activity, but some of the most common options include, but are not limited to:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Cardio machines at the gym
  • Weight training cardio circuits
  • Sports, specifically aerobically challenging sports
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Hiking
  • Kickboxing/boxing
  • Versions of yoga that include elevated heart rate

The list goes on, but, no matter what method you choose, be sure to include cardio in your life for your health’s sake.

Cardio Intensification

Obviously you know about walking or running faster or for longer distances as good ways to intensify your cardio, and that can apply to all the current methods listed above.

BUT, have you heard of interval training?  I go more into it here, but interval training is the idea of combining periods of hard work with periods of rest or active recovery.

A great cardio option that uses intervals is on the elliptical or a bike and follows a 1:2 work:rest ratio to start and allows you to increase the difficulty by decreasing the rest time.

For example, perform a sprint or an increased speed for 20 seconds, then go really slow for 40 seconds.  Repeat this for 15-30 minutes depending on your fitness level, then you can start to decrease the rest.  You can do that with sprints, jogging and walking, and most other forms of cardio as well!

Best Cardio Option for You

I know it sounds a little cliche and like a broken record, but seriously, the best cardio option is whatever works best for you.  Whatever you can fall in love with doing that will get you through the days that it isn’t fun or you don’t want to do it.

I know it’s hard to know what’s going to work, if you’re going too hard, and if you’re doing all the right things, but there are people out there to help you (like me), who’s job it is to help you learn, progress, and gauge what works for you.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to me (or others) and ask for help if you need it or want it.  That’s what we love to do.

How You Can Include Cardio in Your Routine

Where you want to begin doing, or improve upon your cardio routine is dependent upon where you are in your fitness.  My advice on the matter is simple:

  • Start where you are.  All you can control is from today forward, so don’t worry about what’s happened before, or what you used to be able to do, just start with what you can do today, and do that.
  • Be consistent and make it more difficult over time.  Although you need to be consistent, you need to force adaptation within your cardiovascular system as you go.  Over time, it will get better, so you must then increase either the duration or intensity of your cardio to appropriately challenge the system.
  • Make it something you enjoy and can stick to.  It’s a marathon not a sprint, no pun intended.  But seriously, what’s the point if you don’t enjoy it?  It’s not going to be fun all the time, but if you like it a majority of the time, then you’ve found something that works!
How to Start Doing Cardio Options 1, 2, and 3

Key takeaway:

The evidence for including cardiovascular exercise into our lives is too strong to ignore.  With so many cardio options available to us and so much knowledge about the most efficient delivery of a cardio workout, our excuses are limited and feeble.

Start today with something small and get into a rhythm doing that consistently.  Then start to build on that.

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Sources

  1. Booth, F. W., Roberts, C. K., & Laye, M. J. (2012). Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Comprehensive Physiology2(2), 1143–1211. Link.
  2. Warburton, D. E. R., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal174(6), 801–809. Link.
  3. Hamer MChida Y
    Walking and primary prevention: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies
  4. Agarwal, S. K. (2012). Cardiovascular benefits of exercise. International Journal of General Medicine5, 541–545.  Link.
  5. Carlson SA, Fulton JE, Pratt M, Yang Z, Adams EK. Inadequate physical activity and health care expenditures in the United States. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2015;57:315–323. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2014.08.002. Link.