Cardio - Do I need it?

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If you are asking this question then you probably will not like my answer. Yes! You need to do cardio! Everyone wants the easy way out, searching for that magic pill that promises to shed body fat and make you lean and healthy. I’m here to tell you there is no such thing! There is no replacement for a good diet and exercise routine.




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“But I’ve read articles that tell me I can lose weight and get lean without doing a single bit of cardio!”


I won’t lie to you. You can lose weight and get lean without doing any cardio, however looking lean and being healthy are two different things all together. Cardiovascular exercise is essential in minimising risk of heart disease, which affects 1.4 million Australians and is the single leading cause of death in Australia! You’ve most likely heard of the term ‘use it or lose it’, and that most certainly applies with your cardiovascular system.


“But what can I do? I want to be healthy but I hate running!”


That’s okay because I hate running too. Cardiovascular exercise most simply put, is any exercise that raises your heart rate. Your heart is a muscle but it does not know the difference between running, swimming, boxing or anything else that gets it pumping. It just NEEDS to be pumping! The more you get your heart pumping, the stronger it will become. A stronger heart means more oxygen is distributed to the cells in your muscles which then enable your cells to burn more fat both during exercise and yes even in periods of inactivity!


Types of Cardio


Low Intense Steady State Cardio or LISS


Steady state cardio simply refers to cardio that is a continuous and steady effort over a period of time. It aims to raise your heart rate to a level that can be maintained over a period of time, usually 20-60 minutes or more. Examples include brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, rowing, swimming and more. I believe everybody should do a minimum of 30 minutes of steady state cardio every single day. Our bodies are built for moving!

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I never go a day without at the very least walking around the block, which takes me 30 minutes. And no, walking the dog does not count! Remember we need to have our hearts elevated for the entire time! Our dogs love to stop at every single bush they find to have a sniff or do their business.


High Intense Interval Training (HIIT)


High intense interval training or HIIT for short is a method of training that consists of intense bursts of activity coupled with periods of less intense activity or rest. Many studies state that HIIT is extremely effective for burning fat and keeping it off, not to mention it is much less time consuming!

 

 An example of a HIIT session would be jogging or walking for 40-60 seconds followed by an all-out sprint for 20 seconds, repeating this process over 10-15 minutes. But if you are like me and you can’t stand running let alone sprinting, there are plenty of ways you can push your body to the limit! Try ten rounds of burpees, 10 burpees per set with 30 seconds of rest between. Goblet squats and squat jumps are also great for this routine!

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But why is HIIT effective for burning fat you ask? Studies show that when you exert yourself with intense exercise your body becomes deprived of oxygen, and for up to 24 hours after your workout your body’s metabolism increases to replenish the oxygen that is missing. This is known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC for short.

Training with such high intensities also increases your body’s production of certain hormones such as human growth hormone, testosterone, adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol. This may increase your body’s potential for burning fat, building strength and gaining muscle. Keep in mind cortisol is a stress producing hormone, which is why I suggest HIIT should be used sparingly at 1 to 2 times per week to maximise your benefits without hurting yourself.

 

HIIT is not only great for fat loss it is also great for your cardiovascular health as it strengthens not only your aerobic capacity but your anaerobic capacity also! (More-so of the latter) What does this mean?  Anaerobic is a term that describes the lack of oxygen. Training your anaerobic capacity means to train your body’s ability to function while deprived of oxygen. Think of the feeling you get after sprinting at maximum speed for 300 metres. If you haven’t done it in a while then you will probably feel like either passing out or throwing up. This is because your body isn’t trained to deal with anaerobic stress.


Why Should I do Low Intense Steady State Cardio (LISS)?


Your body will recover quicker

If you are combining resistance training with your healthy nutrition plan and cardio routine then your muscle fibres are constantly being torn down, leaving you stiff and sore for days after your workout. Implementing cardio in your daily activities will strengthen your heart and allow it to pump more oxygen and nutrients into your broken down muscles at a faster rate!

A stronger cardiovascular system also means a stronger immune system! Your metabolism is boosted so your body is more efficient at dealing with toxins and any bad bacteria that comes your way. You will get sick less often and recover more quickly when you do.

Another important aspect is your central nervous system (CNS). In our busy stressed out lives today our nervous system takes a toll, especially if you include resistance training in your weekly routine. HIIT cardio may help you lose fat faster by jumpstarting your metabolism but doing too much will hurt you rather than help you because your nervous system can become strained as it works hard to complete your workouts, while Steady State cardio does not tax your CNS as much.

Mental Health

“I need to go for a walk to clear my mind.” This is something that is commonly said when someone is stressed out. It works, but most people don’t know why. It works because while exercising, your brain releases endorphins which are powerful chemicals that promote positive energy and a good sense of wellbeing. The more intense you workout, the more you will notice this effect. Some people may know this as the ‘runners high’ however any type of cardio or exercise can produce this effect.

“But why wouldn’t I do a more intense workout if that were the case?”

That is because doing intense exercise puts more stress on your body. If you are feeling too stressed out whether it’s from work or problems at home the last thing you should do is put yourself through even more stress.

Studies show that regular exercise can treat symptoms of mild to moderate depression, anxiety and help reduce stress just as effectively as medication without any of the side-effects!

Heart Health

Contrary to what some people might try to tell you, LISS strengthens your heart more effectively than HIIT. Your heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood into and through its left ventricle before pushing it out through the rest of your body. HIIT workouts will force your heart to expel the oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle faster in order to force more oxygen through your body. LISS cardio allows blood to fill up the left ventricle, which over time stretches it and thus increasing its capacity.

LISS also increases the density of your capillaries and thus not only does your body intake more oxygen, it becomes more efficient at transferring 


Why Should I Do HIIT?


Burns More Calories
 

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Due to the EPOC effect, your body will be burning more calories throughout the day. The more intense your workout is, the stronger the EPOC effect will have on your body. Working out and maximum intensity isn’t sustainable over long periods of time, which leads to the next point…

 
Saves Time

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An effective HIIT workout can be completed in 15 minutes OR LESS. In today’s busy lifestyle it can be difficult to find the time to put in the work to becoming a healthier and stronger you. The beauty of HIIT is it can be done in such little time. And the harder you push yourself, the less time your workout will take! It can be done on your coffee break at work!

 If you include light resistance training into your HIIT workout you can also expect to experience faster muscle gains and recovery. 


Mental Strength


Pushing your body to its limits is extremely difficult to do, even in the small time frame you have to do it.  But forcing your body to push its physical boundaries is a great way to strengthen your mental fortitude or ‘willpower’. This will carry over both into your resistance workouts, to allow you to push further and also even into your everyday life!

Chemical Changes

As previously stated when exercising your brain produces chemicals called endorphins to counteract stress you put on your body. The more intensely you train, the more your brain will release these endorphins which boost your mood and give you a feeling of wellness.

 

In addition your body releases more anabolic hormones such as adrenaline, testosterone and growth hormone which all provide a physical effect on the body increasing muscle strength and power and fat burning potential! (Ladies do not fret as this will NOT make you look boyish or muscular)


So what now? Which one is right for me?


I will tell you right now that there is absolutely NO substitute for steady state cardio. A minimum of 30 minutes of brisk walking must be done every day to strengthen your cardiovascular system. There is no drug or pill you can take to replace it, nor can you replace it with HIIT.  If time is your excuse, you need make time! Get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning, or go for a brisk walk on your lunch break. There are absolutely no excuses to NOT take care of your health.

Another great tip which can be implemented easily is changing the way you go about your daily life. Whenever you are on your feet, walk fast. Whenever you have a choice to sit or to stand such as taking a bus or train, always stand. When you have the option between stairs and an escalator or elevator, use those stairs! You can fit in a workout by walking up a flight of stairs, skipping one stair at a time or more if you have longer legs.

 

No matter how busy the shopping centre is people always line up to use the escalator and avoid the stairs! I can’t help but laugh inside as I walk up the stairs overtaking everybody on the escalator beside me.
Okay now that is out of the way, what about HIIT? HIIT is a great tool that should be used sparingly by young adults. What do I mean by this is? I do not recommend a senior adult or someone who is more prone to injury to start doing HIIT. If you are unsure, seek advice and permission from your doctor first!

If you are capable to incorporate HIIT into your routine, I strongly recommend not rushing into it! I know a lot of people just want to lose weight fast so they do anything and everything that promises fast weight loss all at once and either burn themselves out or they get injured.

 

If you are just starting out on your journey to becoming a healthier you, don’t even think about HIIT yet. Make slow changes to your daily habits and routine bit by bit. Start with a daily morning walk. After a few weeks you can think about incorporating resistance training into your routine. Once you have built up your aerobic ability and muscular strength and endurance first, then you can think about doing HIIT. Just remember HIIT is a good tool to use if usedproperly. If you do HIIT more than 2 (3 max!) times a week, you will end up doing more harm than good!


Conclusion


To summarise, cardio is essential in becoming the healthier person that you envision yourself becoming. It starts with simply taking a 30 minute brisk walk every single day.  No matter what your goals may be, be it fat loss, feeling better about yourself, recovering faster, improving stress levels or reducing anxiety, some daily low intense steady state cardio will get you where you want to go.

Read More: Active Recovery – What is Active Recovery?

Read More: Active Rest – What is Active Rest?
 
 

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