Many of us are confused about what to do because there are conflicting opinons about how much cardio we really need. The guidelines published by the American College of Sports Medicine suggest 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week, or vigorous cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week. For weight loss, you might need even more (up to 60-90 minutes) depending on your diet and other activities. It's tough keeping all these rules straight and, the good news is that you don't have to. Sometimes it's best to forget the rules and get back to basics: Cardio isn't just for weight loss.
Our Bodies Are Made to Move
If you have a sedentary job, think about how your body feels at end of the day. Do you have tight muscles, an aching back, feel exhausted even though you haven't done anything physical? Maybe your shoulders burn from tension and your head hurts from staring at a computer screen for too long. Now, think about how your body feels after a workout. Your muscles are warm and flexible, the blood is pumping through your body, providing oxygen and energy. You feel energized, confident, proud of yourself and ready to take on the world. It's much different, isn't it? Our bodies are made to move--not sit around all day and yet, that's exactly what we're doing.
Next, take a moment to remember all the benefits of cardio exercise:
- Weight loss
- Stronger heart and lungs
- Increased bone density
- Reduced stress
- Reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
- Temporary relief from depression and anxiety
- More confidence about how you feel and how you look
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Setting a good example for your kids to stay active as they get older
Notice that weight loss, while a big focus for many people, is only one benefit of cardio. Despite that, weight loss is often our only goal and not just for health, but to look good. While there's nothing wrong with wanting to look good, having that as our only goal can make exercise harder. Why? Because losing weight takes time...what happens if you don't see results on your timetable? Where will your motivation go if the scale doesn't cooperate? Open your mind to other reasons to exercise--you might just find new ways to make exercising easier.
Cardio for Better Quality of Life
Appearance is important. That's why I take a shower every day, make sure my clothes match and check that I don't have anything green stuck in my teeth. But I worry that we've gotten so obsessed with how we look that we no longer care about how we feel. If you look at the benefits listed above, all of them translate into feeling good now and in the future. Despite that, we still seem more entranced with getting six-pack abs than feeling good, both physically and mentally.
Have we forgotten that being active can make our lives better? Moving around increases blood flow to our muscles, strengthens the heart and lungs and teaches the heart to work more efficiently. Not only that, when you exercise you set a good example for your kids to do the same, which could mean a better future for them.