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Cardiovascular Exercise: 6 Priceless Benefits

Cardiovascular exercise, also called aerobic exercise or cardio for short, is movement that raises respiratory and heart rates and increases oxygen and blood flow throughout the body. Cardio can improve many aspects of your health, among them: heart health, mental health, sleep, mood, metabolism, and weight regulation.

A woman is doing cardiovascular exercise

What are cardiovascular exercises? 

What is a cardio workout, you might be wondering? Cardio is any activity or movement that increases blood circulation throughout the body. Cardio helps burn excess calories by increasing the heart rate into what’s called the target heart rate zone, which is the zone where the body burns the most calories. To be beneficial, cardiovascular exercise should be done for at least 10 minutes every day. Cardio can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improves brain health, the immune system, and heart health. 

Cardio exercise: benefits 

Cardio is one of the best and most effective ways to achieve good health. Aerobic exercise uses a huge variety of muscles while increasing cardiovascular fitness, so it’s good for your body in lots of different ways. Here are some of the biggest ways cardio is good for you:

1. Improves heart health

One of the benefits of cardio exercise is that it improves heart health. Thirty to sixty minutes of cardio exercise a day can help control blood pressure, reduce blood sugar, boost HDL (good cholesterol), lower anxiety and stress, and decrease the protein that contributes to blood clots. 

2. Promotes brain health

Cardiovascular exercise helps safeguard memory and thinking skills. Research has found that the parts of the brain that control memory and thinking (the medial temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex) have greater volume in individuals who exercise than in individuals who do not. Physical exercise also slows down shrinking of brain size in older people, which improves cognitive function. It can also help you get a good night’s sleep, which is vital for good mental health.

3. Boosts your mood and energy

Cardio exercise can elevate your mood, reduce stress, give you more stamina and energy, and sharpen memory and mental focus. Cardio increases endorphins (neurochemicals that can cause a feeling of euphoria). It also increases the release of the mood-boosting hormones such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Having an improved mood can also make you feel more energized and ready to take on the rest of your day.

4. Increases metabolism

Cardio exercise can also improve your metabolism. Whether you are jogging, swimming, running, or using a stationary bike, all types of cardio exercise increase your metabolism. Cardio increases the production of FGF21 (fibroblast growth factor 21) hormone. This hormone has many positive effects on the body’s metabolism. When the metabolic rate increases due to exercise, more calories are burned, and there is temporary suppression of your appetite as well. 

5. Regulates weight

Cardio exercise such as running, swimming, walking and jogging burns calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, cardio can be very helpful. Moderate to high intensity cardio workouts can burn quite a lot of calories each exercise session. Cardio workouts that are the most effective for reducing weight include running stairs, jumping rope, cycling, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), rowing, and walking. 

6. Strengthens immune system

Cardiovascular exercise can lead to a stronger immune system, helping lower your body’s risk of bacterial infection. Exercise increases the release of antibodies and white blood cells, both of which strengthen your immune system’s ability to fight infections. And FGF21 not only increases your metabolism — it can also improve your immune system. This means the more you workout, the more FGF21 strengthens your immune system. 

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Cardiovascular exercises: easy options 

Short bouts of cardio exercise — as short as five-minutes — are just as effective as longer sessions, as long as the intensity level and the total cumulative workout time are comparable. So 12 5-minute bursts of high-intensity cardio can be as effective as one 60-minute session, which makes cardio a great exercise option for people who don’t have big blocks of free time. 

If you want to start a cardio practice, you’re in luck. You can do a lot of cardio without any special equipment or a gym membership. Before you get started, here are some stretches to practice pre-workout and the easiest cardio exercises to jumpstart your routine:

Stretches before cardio

A woman is stretching before cardio

These are some great warm-up exercises and stretches to do before cardio:

  • Head and Shoulder Rolls
  • Upper Body Twists
  • Hip circles
  • Knee circles
  • Arm Circles
  • Knee Lifts
  • Heel Digs
  • Walking

The easiest cardiovascular exercises

Remember — you don’t have to run a marathon to get a good cardio workout. Even just a little bit of cardio every day can make a difference. Here are some of the simplest cardio exercises to get you started:

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Jump Rope 
  • Jogging in Place 
  • Burpees
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Bear Crawls
  • Squat Jumps
  • Split Jumps
  • Lateral Toe Taps 

If you’re not used to cardiovascular exercise, you may want to start slowly, by taking a day or two in between workouts to let your body recover. Or you may want to start by only doing a bit of cardio each day and gradually increasing the amount. Before you get started, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure you’re exercising in a way that’s safe for you. 

Agarwal, S. K. (2012). Cardiovascular benefits of exercise. International journal of general medicine, 5, 541.

Myers, J. (2003). Exercise and cardiovascular health. Circulation, 107(1), e2-e5.

Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R., & Viel, S. (2011). The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30(1), 67.

Terra, R., Silva, S. A. G. D., Pinto, V. S., & Dutra, P. M. L. (2012). Effect of exercise on immune system: response, adaptation and cell signaling. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte, 18(3), 208-214.

Thomas, A., Dennis, A., Bandettini, P. A., & Johansen-Berg, H. (2012). The effects of aerobic activity on brain structure. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 86.

Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Cmaj, 174(6), 801-809.

Yakubovich, M. A. (2017). Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: Analyzing the Benefits of Different Forms of Exercise for Adults Diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

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