Let me preface this article by saying I used to be the slightly tubby kid at the back of the running group, puffing and wheezing whilst everyone casually ran ahead of me quietly. I never enjoyed cardiovascular exercise because I sucked at it and because I was too young to truly appreciate the benefits of it. I couldn’t run around the block without suspecting my lungs were going to collapse, and i’d almost certainly beat Federer at tennis by now if my fitness wasn’t so abysmal (just kidding, obviously…).
Now that we have established I was the Bruce Bogtrotter of cardio, let me explain why cardio doesn’t deserve the reputation is has. There is no doubt that strength training is a great form of exercise and combined with an appropriate nutrition plan, you can see exceptional results without the need to slug it out on the treadmill. However, in my experience, engaging in both strength training and cardio is optimal for my overall physical and mental health, and if I were to completely neglect cardio I would be missing out on some important benefits. So for me, here are four reasons why you should implement some cardio into your workout routine:
1. It can improve your mental health
Anecdotally speaking, cardiovascular/anaerobic fitness has helped my mental health greatly over the past year. It has provided me with feelings of accomplishment, contentment and clarity that I was previously devoid of. There are still days when I feel flat or deflated, and I almost talk myself out of going for a walk or run at the beach. In these moments, I recall the feelings of elation and joy that I have experienced after a simple cardio session, and this is what encourages me most to get off my butt and do something. Even if it is such a simple walk with a friend, it nearly always improves my mood. Even the times where it doesn’t immediately help with my mental health, I know the cumulative effect of consistent bouts of cardio improves my productivity and reduces the chance that a “low” mood can morph into something more permanent and debilitating.
It’s important to note that the beneficial effects that cardio has on mental health is not merely a subjective experience of my own. Scientific studies have proven that cardio can play a significant role in improving an individual’s mental wellbeing. For example, aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, running, walking and even gardening have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. That’s not to say that if you are experiencing mental health issues that you should just simply go for a run and “you’ll be right”, but rather it highlights one of the many protective factors that can contribute towards improving an individual’s mental state.
2. You can eat more calories
If you’re anything like me, woofing down an entire packet of malteasers is a simple task that can be achieved in only a few minutes if the right movie is on and no one is around to judge you. One of the benefits of cardio is that you can eat thousands of packets of malteasers a day and never gain weight! NOT. If only that were the case. Unfortunately people are particularly bad at overestimating how many calories we burn during exercise and we more often than not underestimate how many calories we consume in a day. This has the obvious effect of causing weight gain which can be disheartening for those who have been diligent with their cardio practices and are trying to lose weight.
However, cardio is arguably the best form of exercise to burn kilojoules/calories and therefore technically you should be able to eat more calories in a day if you are doing more cardio. Strength training has many benefits but perhaps one of its downsides is that sometimes you don’t actually burn that many calories doing weights. If you are following a strict meal plan where you need to stick to a certain amount of calories per day to reach your goals BUT you also love your food, engaging in more cardio is probably one of the best ways you can have your cake and eat it too.
3. Positive impacts on overall physical health
Physical inactivity has been identified as a significant risk factor in the development of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. This is basically a fancy way of saying if you don’t move your body, you increase your chance of being diagnosed with the abovementioned diseases. On the flip side, there are a plethora of physical health benefits associated with consistent aerobic exercise. Cardiovascular exercise can improve overall heart health, reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It can also help lower your blood pressure, assist in regulating blood sugar, mitigate asthma symptoms, and even help improve sleep.
Other benefits of regular cardiovascular exercise include promoting blood flow around the body and therefore decreasing the likelihood of stroke occurring; improving memory and cognitive function; protecting against the development of alzheimer’s disease; and aiding in the management of issues associated with arthritis whilst also promoting range of motion in joints. Even just writing all this down makes me want to go for a run but unfortunately it’s midnight here and my fluffy pink dressing gown is a little bit more appealing than these incredible benefits.
4. Perfect way to listen to podcasts
Admittedly this argument for cardio is a little random but has actually been a huge motivator for me to continue with consistent cardio. Every morning I wake up at around 5:30-6:00am and go for an hour walk with an interesting or educational podcast playing in my ears. I have made several key revelations about my life whilst walking and listening to podcasts and it’s something I highly encourage you to consider if you are feeling uncertain or lacking in direction. Whilst nothing is stopping you from doing this whilst weight training, I feel like the grunts and groans from the powerlifters at the gym and just the bustling atmosphere in general to be incongruous with the soothing and insightful voices that are often the hosts of the podcasts I listen to. My relaxed morning walk provides the perfect opportunity for me to learn about a range of topics such as health and fitness, meditation, mindfulness, stress-management and even financial management. This not only has a positive impact on my physical health, but it allows me to engage in introspection and self-development, which has been extremely beneficial for me in the past year.
Cardio can be draining, soul-sucking and just plain awful. However, in my experience, the worst part of it is really just thinking about it. Once you’re out there in the sunshine, listening to your music, wearing your new active gear and smugly posting a picture of the beach on your instagram story to your inferior and lazy friends (I kid, I kid) then you realise it aint that bad at all. If the multitude of physical and mental health benefits can’t persuade you to lace up the Nike’s to go for a run, then don’t feel disheartened. Engaging in cardio is about finding what works for you individually, and maybe running or walking just isn’t for you. It might be time to pursue other potential forms of cardio, like cycling, swimming or even pole-dancing classes. Find what works for you even if it means trying every form of exercise under the sun, because I believe the benefits of cardio are far too significant to overlook.