No matter where the vast world of fitness takes you, your cardiovascular health will always be forefront. Simply put, cardiovascular activities increase our life expectancy when compared to inactive individuals. This fact alone should make us at least a little motivated to incorporate into our fitness routines. Whether you are running, biking, swimming, or even just brisk walking, you are increasing your aerobic capacity and strengthening your heart. It all starts with one step out the door or into the gym.
We all know that working out over time changes our body for the better, but it is not always emphasized that it changes our mental state as well. Many of us suffer from mental health issues such as depression, and cardiovascular fitness directly combats this through the release of endorphins. Runners often experience “runners high” where during or after their workout they feel a sense of euphoria. Cardio also can help our sleep schedule, aiding in our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Getting 8 hours of sleep a day is one of the simplest, yet oftentimes neglected aspects of improving our fitness level. Without adequate sleep, we are not repairing our muscles, which often amounts to workouts stymied by sluggishness, soreness, or even pain.
Cardiovascular improvements don’t just involve running or machines, but also are seen in Circuit Training. Circuit training incorporates several different exercises, one after another, with little or no rest. Circuit training may include exercises such as the bench press, bicep curls or squat jumps. By doing them in a circuit, the cardiovascular system will see great improvements as well. This can also be a great way to save time during your workouts, especially if you are short on time.
Another type of training that incorporates the cardiovascular system is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Some examples of exercises used in HIIT training are ball slams, burpees, and mountain climbers. This type of training really depletes our glycogen stores, burning more carbohydrates than fats because of the high intensity. Even though the main fuel source in these exercises is carbohydrates, the duration of the session increases the number and activity of mitochondria (powerhouses of cells) in our muscles to allow us to meet the energy demands of exercise.
One very notable improvement with cardiovascular fitness is weight loss and abdominal strength. Many people who exercise are motivated by their extra few pounds, or by their desire to develop a 6 pack. Running is one cardiovascular activity that aids in this process greatly. The average 1 hour run can burn upwards to 1,000 calories depending on the speed and incline you are at. There are 3,500 calories in a single pound of fat. Do the math! You can realistically burn a pound of fat per week by simply running. Not to mention the abdominal development you will achieve through the expiration of air utilizing your rectus abdominis and internal intercostals. The faster you run, the more forcefully you have to blow the air out of your lungs at increasing speeds. Almost every serious runner you meet will have 6 pack abs and almost no body fat.
On a personal note, I have been only been running for 6 months now, and I am about to attempt to run a Boston qualifying marathon. Back in March I was becoming overwhelmed and anxious about a lot of things going on in my life. Ryan Koss, a Fitness Consultant here at Western, challenged me to run the the Western 5K Beer Run and the Bellin Run. I ended up running a 24 minute 5k, to then improve to my goal of 45 minutes for the 10 k after about 2 months of training. I continued on to run a half marathon at 1:47 pace, and I am now attempting to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. Through this journey of mine, I have been able to deal with the problems in my life with greater ease. I lost 20 pounds and have developed great abdominal strength and stamina. Running had definitely made me a better person.
By incorporating cardiovascular activities into your fitness routine, you will see both physical and psychological benefits. Improved sleep, reduced depression levels, increased lifespan, abdominal strength, and fat loss are all notable benefits that result from consistent training. While cardio equipment and running or walking outside are great, cardiovascular improvements can be seen through other types of training such as circuit and HIIT workouts. The most important part of any workout routine is to have fun and be consistent. Get after it!