My eyes light up each time I visit a gym the same way a child’s do when she sees a toyshop. I love to check out the equipment, the freeweights, the pull-up bars, the benches, the power cages, and cables & pulleys, etc. It is almost therapeutic for me to see how different gyms are laid out and the type of exercises they cater for.
Because I know how addictive ‘gymming’ can be, I understand when I see some people training religiously in the weight room, to the exclusion of all other forms of exercise. The category of young men especially falls within this group (their favourite body parts being the arms and chest – to be trained everyday!) Yet, there is so much variety in terms of exercises that even watching a weight training session in progress can be entertaining.
In contrast, the cardio sections of gyms could seem monotonous and boring. The so-called ‘serious’ fitness freaks, especially among men, stay away from cardio exercises because they seem too ‘feminine’. It is no wonder that all classes for aerobics, Zumba, Bollybics, and other variations of the same thing, have an overwhelming number of females in attendance as compared to males. Just as women don’t want to ‘bulk up’ by training with weights, men do not want to appear feminine by doing cardio work.
I see some people training religiously in the weight room, to the exclusion of all other forms of exercise.
But ignoring cardio exercises simply means that you are overlooking a crucial component of fitness – your cardiorespiratory health – the health of your heart, which you will literally need for a lifetime to pump blood through your body; your blood vessels, which carry the nutrients your organs need for various functions; and your lungs, which oxygenate the blood from the air you breathe.
Let us understand why cardiorespiratory endurance matters. Put simply, it is the ability of your heart, blood vessels and lungs to function adequately for a prolonged period of time while carrying out any aerobic activity, i.e. when your body can use oxygen in the air to generate energy. You are in this aerobic zone over 99% of the time – while carrying out all day-to-day activities. The aerobic zone is heightened when doing cardio activities such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, rowing, stair-climbing, dancing, step aerobics, etc., which is why it counts as exercise, popularly known as ‘cardio’.
Cardio offers six key benefits for health and fitness:
- Improved heart health – The word ‘cardio’ literally means ‘heart’. Cardio helps to regulate and enhance the capacity of the heart to pump blood through the body, thus, reducing your Resting Heart Rate (RHR), which is a measure of the fitness of a person’s heart. In practical terms, it means that the lower your RHR, the greater your stamina when it comes to cardio/ aerobic activities that last for a long duration, ranging from a few minutes to even a few hours. A healthy person’s RHR is typically between 60-80 beats per minute. A healthy person with a lower RHR than 60 bpm shows positive adaptation to cardio exercise and will likely have greater endurance or stamina than a person with a higher RHR.
Do you know people who get out of breath after walking just a few tens of metres or climbing a short flight of stairs? They likely have a high RHR, i.e. over 80 beats per minute.
- Lowered recovery time – A lowered RHR means that you can recover quickly from any strenuous activity and, thus, you would feel less tired than before. Also, the cardio training stimulus leads to a process called neocapillarisation, i.e. formation of new capillaries, through which nutrients are transported to different organs in the body via the blood. With a greater number of capillaries available for this job, recovery time is further reduced.
- Reduced risk of heart disease – With an improvement in heart health, the risk of disease automatically goes down, as it normalises blood pressure, helps to manage insulin response to glucose (the key marker for diabetes mellitus), and, hence, reduces risk of atherosclerosis.
- Improved skin health – Cardio increases the circulation of blood through the body. The nutrients in the blood reach skin cells too and drive toxins & dirt out of the body through sweat. This helps to keep your skin healthy.
- Accelerated fat loss – Aerobic exercise of any kind draws upon your body’s fat reserves for providing energy for long periods. Hence, cardio can help accelerate fat loss and improve body composition.
- Reduced stress – While exercise of any kind helps alleviate stress, cardio work especially releases endorphins into your blood that activate your mood sensors and reduce stress by increasing the blood circulation to your brain.
With a wide-ranging menu of cardio activities on offer, one may wonder which one to invest time and effort in. More on that soon.
PC: Essentrics with Betty