Strength training has taken the fitness world by storm in the recent years, giving precedence to the muscular form as a vision of health. Unfortunately, this shift to strength training has left cardio exercise by the wayside – a detrimental outcome.
While strength training is a critical aspect of a strong physique and long lifespan, it is not enough on its own to guarantee overall health. Cardiovascular exercise is still crucial, and should be part of a balanced fitness regimen.
The Death & Rebirth of Cardio
Cardio fell by the wayside primarily due to – get this – an obsession with it. Fitness enthusiasts were getting so focused on high-intensity interval training and aerobic exercise as a primary source of physical health that they overlooked the detrimental impacts of overdoing it.
It’s true, too much cardio is a thing. It can wear down your muscles, leaving you weaker and more prone to injury. Too much high-intensity cardio can lead to arterial plaque, with endurance athletes (such as marathon runners) having a five times higher risk of irregular heartbeat than their non-athletic counterparts.
Similarly, a 2015 study found that strenuous joggers had the same mortality rate as sedentary individuals, while light-to-moderate joggers had an improved mortality rate.
Whether these statistics were enough to scare people off cardio is uncertain, but one thing is without deniability: strength training has taken reign, no doubt at the expense of cardio. Research shows that cardio exercise is still essential to overall health, however, and that it should be balanced with strength training.
Doing Cardio Right
Before you sign up for that high-intensity cardio bootcamp at your local gym, consider the importance of moderate, steady-state cardio exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity cardio per week.
This can be as simple as going on walks during your lunch break at work, changing your method of transportation to walking instead of driving, or going for long walks on the weekends. If you’re not used to cardio exercise, start off slow. And, don’t think that just because you’re “in shape”, you can handle cardio. Strength training is not preparation for the amount of cardio you can take on.
If you’re looking to lose weight, start by walking, hiking, dancing, or doing some light jogging for 12-16 weeks, at five days a week. Getting your joints moving and used to long periods of activity is the first step.
Once you’ve improved your endurance and momentum, you can begin to incorporate some anaerobic (high-intensity) elements like bike spurts, elliptical spurts, or burpees. Keep them at 15-30 second bursts of activity at the start, for only about 10 minutes per day.
While resistance (weight-training) should still eventually be the primary focus of your workouts, cardio is needed for your body to optimize its intake and utilization of oxygen. By delivering that oxygen more efficiently to different muscle groups as a result of cardio, you’ll experience less soreness after weight-training.
Cardio and weights go hand-in-hand, and while weights should perhaps be a bigger presence in your workouts, cardio is still equally as important.
What Cardio Can Offer
Cardio exercise offers health benefits that weight-training cannot. And, with sedentary jobs having increased by 83 percent since 1950, it’s imperative we reacquaint ourselves with it. It carries a slew of lifestyle improvements, including:
- Reducing blood sugar levels in those with diabetes
- Combatting depression and anxiety
- Improving metabolism
- Regulating cholesterol & blood pressure
In order to reap all these benefits of cardio exercise, you should work out to within 55-85% of your maximum heart rate for 20-30 minutes. Your maximum heart rate is calculated as 220 minus your age, for a result that translates to beats per minute (BPM). Whether you use a stethoscope, wearable tech (like the Apple Watch or Fitbit), or a heart rate monitor to calculate this efficiently, it serves as an excellent goal.