Tag Archives: Components of Fitness

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 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:

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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I’m not overweight. Why do I need to exercise?

A very close relative, a contemporary of mine, let’s call her P, was a skinny child and a slender teenager. I envied how she never had to care whether any of those cute prom outfits would look nice on her or not. She was decidedly a mesomorph. Her lifestyle allowed enough room for culinary indulgences without causing a large change (pun intended) in how she looked. While I was always goaded by my parents to exercise, she was hardly ever at the receiving end of such parental concern. Luck favoured her well into her twenties. Then, it ran out.

She was decidedly a mesomorph.

A dramatic change in her lifestyle and diet, when she relocated to another city, first started to show up on the scale – she gained over 10 kilos in a single year. A demanding and erratic work schedule aggravated the issue, bestowing digestion problems in parallel. The stress soon began showing on her face in the form of unsightly eruptions. When she got married a few years later, it was as if P had left all cares for her health behind. Five years and a child later, P weighed a full 30 kilos more than she did when she was 22, with her body fat percentage having doubled from 20% to over 40%. She also had severely weakened knees and the beginnings of hypertension.

Luck favoured her well into her twenties. Then, it ran out.

P’s story is not out of the ordinary – this is an eventuality that most women, especially in India, take for granted. Childbirth and raising children are, in fact, considered a licence for letting oneself go and not have to answer for one’s health. The same goes for many men who seem to expand at alarming rates after marriage, all their indulgence justified in the name of love and appreciation for their wives’ cooking. Really? Whom do they think they are kidding? What about the accompanying diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, you-name-it-lifestyle-disease?

I believe this complacency begins early in life, when age, hormones, and the relative lack of responsibilities are all on our side. As children or teenagers, nobody holds it against us if we look a little heavier than average. At that age, the body is so forgiving and supportive that even the most half-hearted exercise regimen can right a lot of dietary wrongs, thanks to a relatively faster metabolism. That’s also when one starts to believe that exercise is not required if one is not fat.

Childbirth and raising children are, in fact, considered a licence by women for letting themselves go and not have to answer for their health.

However, fitness is much more than just about carrying excess body fat. It involves four other critical components too:

  1. Cardio-respiratory endurance – the ability of your heart, blood vessels and lungs to function adequately for a prolonged period of time while carrying out any aerobic activity (recall how some friends of yours quickly get out of breath with the slightest cardio activity?)
  2. Muscular endurance – the ability of your muscles to adequately support your cardio-respiratory system for a prolonged period of time while carrying out any aerobic activity (remember the time you had to cut short your dance class because of the catch in your thighs and shins?)
  3. Musculo-skeletal strength – the ability of your bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles to exert maximum force against any form of resistance (the time when you had to move a heavy log of wood out of the driveway comes to mind?)
  4. Flexibility – the ability of the body to achieve maximum range of motion around joints (recall the moment when you not only managed to touch your toes but also wrap your fingers around the soles of your feet when your Yoga teacher led you through the Pashchimottanasana, the seated forward bend?)

Fitness is much more than just about carrying excess body fat.

Now, two important things to remember where exercise is concerned:

  • No single type of exercise can lead to improvements in all four components of fitness. Hence, depending solely on the ‘30-minute walk everyday’ or ‘Yoga three times a week’ or even ‘Crossfit five times a week’ cannot help you improve on all four counts simultaneously.
  • Having said that, however, any form of exercise is better than no exercise at all, since it will positively affect at least one component of your fitness.

So, which exercise should you do and why? I’ll get to that in a bit.

PC: Height And Weight Tips