WHAT IS CARDIO?
Did you know that the heart beats 2.5 billion times in the course of an average human lifetime? That’s a lot of pumping. The average adult has about 5.5 liters of blood in their entire body. A healthy heart will circulate all 5.5 liters throughout the body in about 3 minutes. Needless to say, the heart is working pretty hard.
Cardiovascular exercises like running, swimming, and biking use large muscles in a repetitive fashion, causing the heart, lungs, and muscles to work in unison.
They raise your heartrate, exercising the heart like a muscle so that its strong and doesn’t have to work so hard in the future.
BENEFITS OF CARDIOVASCULAR EXERCISE
- Burns calories to help lose weight
- Increases lung capacity, making future cardio activities easier
- Reduces the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Improves the quality of sleep
- Improves mood and prevents depression
HOW DOES CARDIO AFFECT THE HEART?
The leading cause of heart disease (which is the number 1 cause of death in America) is inactivity. Cardiovascular activities improve heart health and help prevent certain diseases, like diabetes. Cardio impacts the heart specifically by making it stronger. The stronger the heart is, the more blood it will be able to pump with each beat. That means the heart will have to do less work to finish the same job.
It works similar to gears on a bicycle or in a car. A person who lives a sedentary lifestyle is stuck in a low gear, meaning their heart will be working incredibly hard to complete a single physical task. A person with an active lifestyle is in the 5th gear: they are able to achieve high speeds and supply lots of power without wearing themselves out.
One should beware of overtraining, however. Too much cardio can increase levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) that can cause weight gain around the midsection and face.
Most people do cardio specifically to lose the weight around the midsection and tummy, so be sure to listen to your body and give yourself a break when needed.
HOW DOES STRENGTH TRAINING AFFECT THE HEART?
Cardio isn’t the only way to improve heart health. Strength training (usually consisting of weight-lifting) also strengthens the heart, although it does so in a completely different way.
While cardio works the heart directly by forcing it to pump more and more blood throughout the body, strength training works out the heart indirectly.
Lifting weights is achieved by muscle contraction. You may have noticed that muscles become hard when they’re in use. Well, that is called muscle contraction.
As muscles contract, they are essentially blocking off blood from moving through the surrounding blood vessels. In order to get blood through the constriction, the heart has to pump even harder.
As blood is increasingly being forced through the body at a higher rate, the walls of veins and arteries become stronger and more resistant, thus helping to protect the individual from the secondary effects of high blood pressure later in life.
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