By Paige Waehner
Cardio exercise tops the recommendations for fitness, health, and burning calories. But you may still be confused about how much you need and all of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
The guidelines published by the American College of Sports Medicine suggest 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week, or vigorous cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week. For weight loss, they say you might need even more (up to 60 to 90 minutes) depending on your diet and other activities.
It’s tough keeping all these rules straight but, the good news is that you don’t have to. Sometimes it’s best to forget the rules and get back to basics—cardio isn’t just for weight loss.
Bodies Are Made to Move
If you have a sedentary job, think about how your body feels at the end of the day. Do you have tight muscles, an aching back, or feel exhausted even though you haven’t done anything physical? Maybe your shoulders burn from tension and your head hurts from staring at a computer screen for too long.
Now, think about how your body feels after a workout. If you do it right, your muscles are warm and flexible, the blood is pumping through your body, providing oxygen and energy. You feel energized, confident, proud of yourself and ready to take on the world. It’s much different, isn’t it? Human bodies are made to move—not sit around all day.
All the Benefits of Cardio Exercise
You may think of cardio as a chore—huffing, puffing, and sweating through workouts just to change how your body works. Yes, cardio can help change your body, but it has many other benefits. Knowing those may make you look at cardio exercise with different eyes.
Just some benefits include:
- Weight loss
- Stronger heart and lungs
- Increased bone density
- Reduced stress
- Reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer
- Temporary relief from depression and anxiety
- More confidence about how you feel and how you look
- Better sleep
- More energy
- Setting a good example for your kids to stay active as they get older
- Notice that weight loss, while a big focus for many people, is only one benefit of cardio. Despite that, weight loss is often a person’s only goal, and not just for health, but to look good.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, having that as your only goal can make exercise harder. Weight takes time. If you don’t see results, you may lose the motivation to exercise. Open your mind to other reasons to exercise—you might just find new ways to make exercising easier.
Cardio for Better Quality of Life
It’s natural to want to look good, but you may get so hung up on how you look that you forget how you actually feel. If you look at the benefits listed above, all of them translate into feeling good now and in the future. Despite that, you may be more entranced with getting six-pack abs than feeling good, both physically and mentally.
Many people forget that being active can make their lives better. Moving around increases blood flow to your muscles, strengthens the heart and lungs, and teaches the heart to work more efficiently.
Not only that, when you exercise, you become a role model for all the people in your life. The more they see you exercise, the more motivated they might be to do the same.
If all this is true, why isn’t that enough to get you moving? Why do so many people struggle with being active? Part of it might be how you think about yourself, your body, and exercise.
Changing the Way You Think
You can get emotionally attached to certain ideas, especially when it comes to exercise. While some people love it, many see it as an obligation, a chore, or even torture. It may be hard to believe that exercise can actually feel good.
It can feel good to move your body. It can feel good to be strong and confident and know you can make it through a workout. That confidence translates into other areas of your life. If you can exercise, what else can you tackle?
If you’re only focused on weight loss, you’re missing out on all those good things. You can change that in these ways:
Keep It simple. If you’re confused about what to do, start with the basics—you need at least 20 minutes for the body to get going, so start there. Get out your calendar, find 20 minutes of time on three different days and do something—walking, running, going to the gym, vigorous yard work—whatever you want. Make it a habit first and work on your time and intensity later.
Be patient. Part of allowing yourself time to make exercise a habit is being patient. You can’t start where you want to be, which may be more than you can handle. You have to start where you are right now. That means easing into it and allowing both your body and mind to respond to what you’re doing. The weight loss will eventually come, but not right away.
Be more mindful. Spend some time focusing on how your body feels while exercising. While music is a great motivator, set a goal to do one workout a week with no distractions. Leave your heart rate monitor, magazines, and music at home. Forget about calories, intensity, and the rest of it and focus on how your body feels. Try different activities. Go slower or faster and see how your body responds. Take some time to learn about your body and you’ll be able to create workouts based on your own rules instead of someone else’s.
Find something to enjoy. If exercise seems like a chore, skip your normal workout and try something else. Take a walk outside and look around. Notice the scenery. Take a new route. Breathe in the air. Breathe deeply. Sometimes just being outside is a reminder of how wonderful it is to have a healthy, functioning body.
Mix it up. The nice thing about cardio exercise is that you can choose any activity that raises your heart rate. You don’t have to do the same workout every session, nor every week. If you’ve been doing the same workouts try something new. Changing up your cardio is easy, so do it often and you’ll discover more activities you enjoy. You can even just change up the workout you currently do. For example, if you gravitate towards treadmill workouts, try mixing it up with interval training.
Appreciate your body. It’s easy to focus on the things you don’t like about yourself but, just for a bit, think about how your body is right now. If it’s in good working order, or at least close to it, think about how that feels. You can stand, walk, and move. Just taking a few moments during your workouts to imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t do what you wanted can help remind you how amazing your body is—no matter how it looks.
It takes time to change how you think about things. Part of making exercise a part of your life might involve opening your mind to different possibilities. Just for a moment, imagine what it would be like to exercise because it feels good—not just because it helps you look good.
Imagine how much more motivating it would be to exercise because you want to, not just because you have to. It really is possible to make exercise an enjoyable part of your life. Being more present in what you’re doing can help.
This article was originally published in VeryWellFit