Cardio Exercise is a Key Component of Fitness
Running. Cycling. Swimming. Rowing. Dancing. Walking. Stair climbing. Exercise circuits. All of these are common forms of cardio exercise. Along with resistance training to increase strength and flexibility to improve joint motion; cardio is one of the key components of a well rounded exercise program. Keep reading to learn 7 benefits of cardio exercise and why you should make it a regular part of your fitness program. (written in 2020, updated in 2021)
Cardio is a Misnomer
First, cardio is a bit of a misnomer, technically, if you’re breathing, you’re doing cardio. When muscles work, they require oxygen to help produce the energy that fuels contractions; that oxygen is delivered via the heart, lungs and blood vessels (your cardiorespiratory system). Deoxygenated blood is pushed to the lungs. The lungs bring oxygen in from the air and place it in the bloodstream and the heart pumps the oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Whew, there’s enough physiology for today, but that’s what’s happening in your body when you move.
Cardio can be ANY activity that elevates your heart rate to pump more oxygenated blood to your working muscles. However the body’s metabolism has to convert fats and carbohydrates, glycerols and glycogen into adenosine triphosphate to fuel muscle activity. Different levels of intensity will use different metabolic pathways: –
Low intensity exercise relies on glycerols and oxygen, called aerobic respiration
Intermediate intensity relies on glycogen/glucose and oxygen
High intensity either glycogen/glucose without oxygen or ATP stored directly in muscle cells.
ANY time you exercise, your muscles are using one of the pathways to produce energy, so technically speaking, metabolic conditioning is a much more appropriate term than cardio. Follow this link to learn about the difference between steady-state and interval exercise.
Benefits of Metabolic Conditioning
That said, there are many well established benefits of metabolic conditioning (met con) such as reducing the risk for developing heart disease, lowering cholesterol, reducing unwanted bodyweight and promoting good health, but are these the only reasons that you should make it a regular part of your exercise program? We know that met con is important and can provide the benefits mentioned above but let’s be frank it can also be arduous work that just isn’t that much fun.
In order to help you find the motivation to add regular metabolic conditioning to your fitness routine I’ve taken the liberty to identify some other, not-so-well known benefits of these workouts.
Group Fitness is Fun and Makes the Time Pass Quickly
If the thought of spending a lot of time by yourself on a cardio machine simply isn’t that excited then you might want to consider taking a movement-based group fitness class. Indoor cycling, Zumba, interval training and dance classes are led by an instructor who coaches you through the workout and are a great way to have fun by exercising with other people. An additional benefit is the opportunity to expand your real-life social network by getting to know other people in the class. (My former wife used to be my cycling instructor, so I’m speaking from experience – even though we didn’t work out, she’s an amazing person and an awesome instructor).
Working out is great for networking
Networking at the gym isn’t just for social relationships, if you don’t go for any other reason, working out at a health club frequented by your colleagues or at the company’s fitness center might elevate career opportunities. Going out for a run in the morning won’t lead to the executive suite in the afternoon but there is a reason why many leaders make time in their day for working out, it helps them be more productive. If you want that promotion or job change then hitting the gym for your metabolic conditioning is the chance to expand your real-life social network and who knows where that will lead.
Time to Listen to Books or Podcasts
If you’re one of the thousands of people who enjoy Podcasts or audio books then make your workout time the time you listen to your favorite on-demand audio content. Listening to your favorite show while going for a walk or run or on your favorite machine at a health club is a great opportunity to do two things at once. You can listen to this episode of All About Fitness where I interview Dr. Scott Trappe of the Ball State Human Performance lab about the study they published on the lifelong benefits of performing aerobic exercise – they studied exercisers in their 70s and found some amazing things about how exercise slows down the effects of aging.
Improve Mitochondrial Density
Okay, time for some of the health-promoting benefits of met con, but this one is often overlooked and rarely mentioned by most doctors. Regular steady state exercise that focuses on your aerobic metabolism (which can be monitored by exercising at an intensity where you are able to talk) can enhance mitochondrial density in your muscle cells. Mitochondria are cell organs that help convert oxygen to energy; adding more to your cells can improve cellular function and can be an important component of slowing down the normal biological aging process. The take away? Adding a little bit of consistent, steady-state met con to your life can not only help you feel younger but look younger as well. Learn more about STEADY STATE TRAINING HERE
Reduce Stress and Feel Better
Met con can help your body be able to deal with stress more effectively. Exercise elevates levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, hormones that are produced during time of stress because they help produce energy. (These are part of your body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response and function to provide immediate energy to handle tough situations). If you don’t exercise on a regular basis and have to deal with stress your body will become very jumpy and jittery when faced with a tough situation. Regular exercise can give your body the ability to know how to handle and deal with these hormones when they are released into your system.
Circuit Strength Training can be a VERY EFFECTIVE form of metabolic conditioning
Deal with Challenging Situations
In addition to giving you the ability to be able to deal with stress more effectively regular met con can help you improve your ability to handle an emergency situation that may require you to be physically active. No, I’m not talking about a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion (although working out would increase your chances of survival); anyone who has lived in a major urban area knows that on occasion there are emergencies like major snow storms, electrical outages, floods or other unforeseen events that can severely disrupt the ability to drive or use mass transit. Don’t you want the comfort and confidence of knowing that you have the ability to walk (or run) home in case something happens to the transit system and the trains aren’t running, or the internet crashes and you can’t get an UBER?
Train Your Brain with Met Con
Strengthen that muscle between your ears! Metabolic conditioning can enhance your cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and for those reasons alone should be a regular part of your life. Met con enhances brain function in two ways: 1) increasing oxygen flow to the brain; and 2) by boosting production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a protein responsible for promoting growth of new brain cells. Regular physical activity that elevates your heart rate is an important component of staying mentally (and physically) fit during the aging process.
This e-book explains how regular exercise, including metabolic conditioning, can help slow down the aging process.
Designed for fitness professionals, personal trainers and group fitness instructors to earn their continuing education credits, CECs, this course will teach you the science of HOW exercise slows down the aging process; it includes the e-book and a number of workouts to help you get the most out of your lifespan. ACE – 0.3 CECs, NASM – 0.4 CECs, AFAA – 4
Metabolic Conditioning can be done ANYWHERE!
There is no guarantee that doing metabolic conditioning can provide all of these benefits. But I do know one thing for sure, if you are NOT doing it then you are limiting the chances of experiencing these life-enhancing benefits. You don’t need a health club membership, expensive home workout equipment or costly workout apps; simply making the time for long, brisk walks or looking for periods of brief activity like climbing the stairs or walking for short errands are ways to add more activity to your day. However exercising at higher intensities does provide results sooner.
This 8 week program teaches you a circuit training workout with dumbbells that you can do from home (or anywhere with a set of dumbbells); it also includes a number of metabolic conditioning workouts!
To learn more about metabolic conditioning and how you can do it on your own, pick up a copy of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple, there is an entire chapter on met con along with 7 workouts that you can start doing right away!