When most of us hear the word “cardio“, we cringe inside. The thought of sweating, gasping for air, and moving when our mind is telling us “quit“, can be exhausting in itself. We also know that it’s the one thing that will help us get a trim body, keep our heart healthy and give us energy for most of the day (believe it or not). Cardio floods the brain with chemicals that enhance functions such as decision making, problem solving and memory. New research has found that cardio exercise may even cause permanent structural changes to the brain itself. Thomas Crook, Ph. D. who is a clinical psychologist and memory researcher says, “cardiovascular health is more important than any other single factor in preserving and improving learning and memory.” I’d have to agree with him. Once you finish, not only do you get the sense of accomplishment, you feel like you’re on top of the mountain. Cardio can also relieve stress and get you out of a funk – here’s how it works.
Anyone who has ever tackled a cardio machine before pretty much knows what happens to their body when they break a sweat. But what about your brain? All that blood that is flowing though you, showers your brain cells in oxygen and glucose – which is exactly what it needs to function in tip top shape. Every muscle you move also sends hormones running to your brain. Things like brain cell growth, learning, and mood regulation evolve from the mixture of hormones and chemicals called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF is like a fertilizer for the brain – without it, our brains can’t take in new information or make new cells. Another thing that exercise plays a role in is the release of several key hormones, like serotonin (the mood booster), dopamine (affects learning and attention), and nor-epinephrine (influences attention, arousal, perception and motivation).
Put all these things together and it’s like having a cocktail that will release tension, focus and make you feel better all around. In one study, researchers had a group of people exercise for a hour a day, three days a week for six months and scanned their brains before and after the trial. What they discovered was an increase in the hypothalamus (controls memory and learning). Working out not only worked out their body, it worked out their brain too! Charles H. Hillman, Ph. D., an associate professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says, “exercise improves memory, attention, accuracy, and how quickly you process information, all of which helps you make smarter decisions.” Who wouldn’t want that!?
If you were to exercise during your work week, you’d be 23% more productive on those days than if you didn’t work out at all. Heart pounding workouts act as a cup of coffee (minus the jitters and calories) by increasing your blood circulation, speeding up your heart rate, improving your focus and bumping up your energy levels. One study published in Brain and Cognition revealed that after doing just 30 minutes of an easy half hour bike ride the participants finished their cognitive test quicker than they did before biking – and just as accurately. All it takes is 30 minutes a day, three times a week to yield these results.
- Cardio also…
Improves the condition of your heart
Increases your metabolism
Help decrease your recovery time
Protects against diseases
Aids in weight loss
Boosts your immune system
Decreases the chances for osteoporosis
Improves bone density
Increases stamina and endurance
Improves your quality of life
Increases your life span
Do you need 50 more reasons?
The best way to get started is to not think about it and JUST DO IT! Start off by doing things that you enjoy – walk with your family, ride your bike around the lake, take a class at your gym, swim if it’s hot out, etc. Keep track of where you are now and where you want to be next week. Keep a journal and aim to always meet your goals. Your ultimate goal is going to be fitting this in five days a week for at least 30 minutes, even if you need to split up the sessions (15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night.) Keep challenging yourself, listen to your body and get ready for a slimmer, healthier, smarter you.
After I researched all the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, I couldn’t wait to get out there and sweat. I’m not someone who wants to lose one more pound, but at the same time, if I want to be healthy and decrease my chances of illness I know I need to get out more. What are some things you enjoy doing to get a good cardio workout? What motivates you and what tends to hold you back? Leave me any advice or comments below. 🙂