Tag Archives: Cardio

Which is the best cardio exercise? The one that gets you closer to your goal!

I am a big believer in productivity. In my own (elusive) vision of the ‘perfect’ me, I am this highly efficient, multi-tasking, fast-moving, super-worker who gets things done on time, every time, all the time. During one of those eureka moments, when you suddenly hit upon the most elegant solution to not one or two, but half a dozen problems, I realised that I must run a marathon.

The main challenges to which it was an elegant answer were:

  1. Getting enough exercise on a regular basis
  2. Improving my stamina
  3. Gaining a sense of accomplishment
  4. Doing something to show off about to friends and family
  5. Losing weight (I was not aware of the concept of ‘fat loss’ as distinct from ‘weight loss’ then) – secretly the most important reason for signing up!

During one of those eureka moments, I realised that I must run a marathon.

And, thus, I signed up for one of the earliest Goa River Marathons. The name was somewhat misleading because it was actually a Half Marathon then, but daunting, nevertheless, to the cardio-challenged me. I did my research on viable training programmes, and, as always, trusted my own instincts on creating one to work on. I embarked, in earnest, on the three-month run-up to the marathon, crossing one milestone after another. From being able to trot barely 3K at the start of the programme, I was running over 10K nonstop a couple of months in, that too within a respectable number of minutes.

I ran 17K of the 21K on the final day and walked the rest. Not bad, I thought. When the soreness had worn off after a couple of days, I stepped on the scale. I had lost a grand total of 1100 grams, at the end of three months. Umm… something wrong with the scale?!

LISS can lead to some weight loss and fat loss but not if you’ve overcompensated for the calories you burned running by eating them back.

If that’s ever happened to you, you’d know the disappointment it brings. But if you knew the science behind this inadequate result, you’d realise that you could not have expected anything different.

Long distance running is, in essence, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio work, where your heart rate remains within the range of 40% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. What it prepares you for is exactly that, long distance running, which builds your stamina or endurance. It CAN lead to some weight loss and fat loss depending on how your diet has changed, but not if you’ve overcompensated for the calories you burned running by eating them back. Walking is the most common example of LISS cardio.

If, however, your goal is to lose fat, then you would be better served by indulging in HIIT.

If your goal is to be a long distance runner, with endless stamina, or if you simply enjoy running, go for it. You will be training completely in the aerobic zone, building your cardio-respiratory endurance as well as muscular endurance in the lower body (the weight-bearing joints and muscles in the hips and legs).

If, however, your goal is to lose fat, then you would be better served by indulging in High Intensity Interval Training, popularly known as HIIT. As the name suggests HIIT workouts have periods of highly intense cardio exercises interspersed by intervals of low intensity exercises or full recovery. This mechanism raises your heart rate, within the range of 75% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, for short bursts of time. It targets body fat stores long after the workout since it has a great after-burn effect. The higher the intensity and shorter the interval, the shorter the workout. There are as many adaptations of HIIT programmes available as there are sports – running, spinning, functional training, circuit training, Crossfit, even swimming. Those with cardiac problems should, perhaps, refrain from HIIT.

Other than intensity, an important principle to bear in mind is whether the chosen cardio activity is high-impact or low-impact.

If your goal is general cardio-respiratory endurance to maintain your level of fitness, then moderate intensity training should be your choice. You would be training at an intensity where your heart rate remains within the range of 60% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. Examples include step-aerobics, Zumba, Power Yoga, dancing, swimming, trekking, etc. Those with cardiac problems should get clearance from their healthcare provider before starting such a programme.

Other than intensity, an important principle to bear in mind is whether the chosen cardio activity is high-impact or low-impact. The ‘impact’ here refers to the stress put on weight-bearing joints, your hips, knees and ankles. Those who have never or rarely been on an exercise programme, those with high levels of obesity, those with orthopaedic problems, and those with back/ spinal injuries should ideally begin with no/ low impact cardio exercises such as swimming, training on an elliptical machine, cycling, rowing, light to moderate Yoga, Pilates, or functional training not involving plyometrics. Most other cardio exercises are high-impact, including walking, all types of jogging or running, climbing stairs, skipping, aerobics, Zumba, dancing, plyometrics, etc.

With so much choice out there, it would be hard not to find a cardio workout that works for you. Go for it!


PC: http://www.health.harvard.edu

I train with weights regularly. Why do I need to do cardio? 6 Key Benefits of Cardio Exercise

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 proportion 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:

  1. 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

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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

I walk 30 minutes each day. Why do I need to train with weights?

I was 11 when I learnt for the first time that ‘walking’ was a cure for all obesity-related maladies. A neighbour, the mother of a friend of mine, had, I’d heard, been denied a reservation on a US-bound flight by an airline because she was overweight. Now I don’t know about airline norms existing at the time, but I do recall that that lady walked about ten kilometres everyday for the next three months to whittle down her 96-kilo frame to a 78-kilo one. When she tried to book her ticket again, the airline had no cause for complaint. On my following term break, I heard that the lady had had to extend her sojourn in the US due to a knee fracture she suffered from a fall on the pavement.

I’ve seen this story repeat itself several times since then (newly minted middle-aged marathoners who literally break a leg, come to mind). ‘Walking is the best exercise.’ This apocryphal piece of advice is dished out to so many so often without the slightest thought for long-term health.

Well-meaning relatives and friends, who oftentimes are the biggest defaulters where exercise is concerned, seem to proffer this advice left, right and centre. Mothers-in-law of expectant brides encourage their daughters-in-law to ‘simply walk’, all as part of the ante-natal care-giving for the mothers-to-be. Doctors of obese diabetic patients prescribe ‘walking for 20-30 minutes a day’ as part of the treatment. Parents of obese teenagers tag the children along with them on their own morning walk ritual.

Walking is the best exercise.’ This apocryphal piece of advice is dished out to so many so often without the slightest thought for long-term health.

Now, I have nothing against walking as a form of exercise. In fact, it is an inseparable part of my own regimen. It is convenient, cheap, does not need to be learnt, and does not require any special gear or equipment except a good pair of shoes. But to say that it is the ‘best form of exercise’ only explains the ignorance of the person saying it.

A person may be motivated to take up exercise for a variety of reasons, mostly reactively, unfortunately, rather than proactively. But if the goal is to seek long-term sustainable health and fitness, then depending on walking alone is investing your time in a severely lop-sided exercise programme.

If you break down the physiology of walking, you’ll realise that it is primarily a lower body workout, which engages your core. It is a high-impact activity that causes a great amount of stress on your weight-bearing joints, the hips, knees and ankles. Since it is a low intensity steady state activity (walking fast would still qualify as low intensity if you are able to do it for tens of minutes), walking engages your aerobic energy system (more on this later), necessarily involving your cardio-respiratory apparatus to provide a constant supply of energy.

The reason that long-time joggers look very lean – they lose the defining muscle along with the body fat.

As a cardio activity, then, walking depends on the carbs immediately available in your system in the form of glycogen stored in muscles, the fat stored in your body as adipose tissue, and the protein from muscles, which can break down to create glucose for energy, in that order. This implies that a cardio activity will eat through your muscle (presumably precious) if it is not able to generate enough energy quickly from the body fat (presumably dispensable). That’s also the reason that long-time joggers look very lean – they lose the defining muscle along with the body fat, unless their nutrition super-compensates for it.

When you let go of muscle, you allow for the weakening of your joints and, hence, bones. So, while your cardio-respiratory endurance improves, resulting in greater lung capacity and a lower resting heart rate, your muscles atrophy and your joints become feebler. How do you then spare the muscle and avoid risking a joint/ bone injury? By doing two things – ensuring appropriate nutrition (a protein-rich diet to repair the muscle tissue) and training with weights.

If fat loss is your goal, then you absolutely must make weight training a part of your fitness regimen.

Weight training provides your body with the training stimulus to first break down muscle tissue and then build it up to be stronger than before. It also prepares your joints and bones for dealing with high-impact activities such as walking or jogging.

If fat loss is your goal, then you absolutely must make weight training a part of your fitness regimen. A larger muscle mass means that you carry more metabolically active tissue, i.e. lean body mass, which revs your metabolism and increases your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Also, resistance training has the greatest after-burn effect among all types of exercise. Hence, you burn more calories even when you are at rest and not only during exercise, as is the case with a cardio activity.

Here’s a bonus: weight training helps muscles to hypertrophy, i.e. grow larger, giving your body a complementary anti-aging lucky charm. It tones the body because muscles add definition to the limbs. You’ll love the compliments that come your way. (See what I did there?!)

Despite all these benefits to resistance training, there is a lot of resistance to training this way. (Okay, now I’m overdoing it…backing off!) I’ll explore other myths on this soon.


PC: shutterstock