Why should we do cardio?
After my article about the benefits of strength training, a lot of people have written me that they want to know the benefits of cardio as well! Ok, that is a lie, only a few people have written me. Nope, that is a lie as well, no one has written me. But you want to know anyway, right? So why should we do cardio? Strength training is ideal (apart from many other benefits) for increasing strength and building muscles but what is cardio for? Maybe we should just take a step back and explain what is cardio.
Cardio is an activity where our heart rate increases, our breathing frequency is increased as well, and simultaneously our cardiovascular and respiratory system is getting stronger. It will be most likely endurance training.
So why should we do it?
When we think about it, strength training is not the only training that strengthens muscles. Cardio also strengthens muscle. The most important one – our heart. Regular cardio helps our heart to pump the blood which strengthens it. The same goes for our lungs which are getting stronger as well as we breathe faster and that leads to the increased capacity of the lungs. That can help with everyday activity, such as walking up the stairs or hills – we won’t be so out of breath anymore!
As I said in the article about the benefits of strength training, cardio is great for burning calories. When we include regular cardio training into our weekly routine, we will be probably able to burn more calories on average and therefore lose weight (because it helps us maintain the calorie deficit easier). And when we take heart-strengthening, improvement of overall cardiovascular function, and decrease in redundant body fat together, all these factors will decrease the chance of diseases such as heart attack or stroke.
Apart from the improvement in physical health, cardio is great for an improvement of mental health as well. Cardio, along with other forms of exercise, releases endorphins which are the hormones that make us feel good. With that, we can reach our goals, increase our confidence and have the feeling of achievement. Because cardio is a type of exercise, where we can see an improvement in our performance quite quickly.
In contrast to strength training, where our strength won’t probably increase week to week (and building muscles takes A LOT OF TIME), improvements in cardio training are much faster. If you can’t run a kilometer without stopping three times today, in a few weeks you will be able to run x times further without any pause (and that goes for other forms of cardio as well)!
It will also help us “clear up our mind” if there is simply too much on our plate. After a cardio session, we can feel a bit lighter in our heads. That can lead to a decrease in stress and better, higher quality sleep.
But I hate it…
I understand that not every sport/ type of exercise is for everyone. And I have never said that. But a lot of people only imagine sprinting or marathons when someone says “cardio training”. But it is not like that, cardio has so many faces. We can do “steady-state cardio” – that is for example running, bike riding, roller skating, walking up the stairs, swimming, dancing, etc., BUT also walking. Yeah, walking is a type of cardio too.
Steady-state cardio usually takes 30 minutes and more and we should expand the same level of effort the whole time (we run in the same tempo, ride on a bike at the same speed, etc.) or at least we are trying to. It is great because it doesn’t have to be intense (can be though!) – for example, a simple walk where we increase the speed so that our heart will beat a bit faster and we breathe a bit harder and voila, cardio is done.
The second type is “interval training” where we can include HIIT (high-intensity interval training). That is a type of training where we go for (for example) 40 seconds as hard as we can (jumping, sprinting…) and then we rest for 20 seconds (it is not exactly HIIT in its true meaning but it came to be used in that way, so I will just use it like that too).
That is great when we don’t want to spend so much time on cardio. I always choose 5 explosive exercises and go for 40 seconds as hard as I can and then rest for 20 seconds. Once I go through all 5 exercises, I repeat that circuit 3x. That is all! 15 minutes and I am done and done.
The first type, steady-state cardio, usually takes up more time but it is not so exhausting. The second one is more intense but it can be shorter. Both have their benefits so it is up to you what you prefer (but you can also combine it of course). Nevertheless, we shouldn’t completely skip cardio sessions (I think everyone should at least walk), if we want to be healthy and have a strong heart and lungs.