The truth about cardio

By Scott Lebowitz

What’s so great about cardio?

[singlepic id=136 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=left]First of all, aerobic exercise (meaning with oxygen) as defined by The Academy of Sports Medicine is “any activity that uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.” Simply put, large muscles, like your legs, require large amounts of energy to work. When you use them in a consistent pattern, like when you walk or run for long enough, your heart rate and breathing increase to maintain proper blood flow. This response serves to provide fuel in the form of oxygen to these muscles so that they keep moving.

And moving is exactly what the two big dogs in the heart and exercise business, the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, recommend when it comes to aerobic exercise. Specifically, they want us to get 30 minutes of moderate intensity 5 days per week (or about 600 minutes per month) or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 days per week.

So your next question should address what defines moderate versus vigorous intensity. A simple rule of thumb is something we like to call the “Talk Test.” When an exerciser can “talk but not sing,” he or she is working at a moderate intensity. If you can barely squeeze out a few words before you need to take a breath, then you are most likely at a vigorous intensity. If you can barely breathe, then you are working too hard. So just remember, if you have your iPod on and you’re doing your version of karaoke to “Hey Jude,” you are not working hard enough.

Alright. Now that you know what aerobic exercise is; how long you should do it and how hard should you work?

Here’s the abridged version of the rewards of consistent aerobic exercise:

•   Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs

•   Strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle to improve its pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate, known as aerobic conditioning

•   Strengthening muscles throughout the body

•   Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure

•   Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen

•   Improving mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression

Additionally, aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular problems. High-impact aerobic activities (such as jogging or jumping rope) can stimulate bone growth, as well as reducing the risk of osteoporosis for both men and women.

So your challenge for March is to M-O-V-E. Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate and allow us all to get outside and enjoy our beautiful neighborhood. And if you miss a day or two, don’t be discouraged, it all counts towards a healthier you.

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