Cardio: The Greatest Gift to One-Upping Your Friends
Ever go for a run or do some cardio with a friend? Ever go on a bike ride or do a fitness program with a family member?
There is one common thing we want: victory. You probably want to beat them huh?
Come on…it’s ok. This is a safe place to admit your vain ambitions.
At the very least you don’t want to look stupid and keep up.
While the taste of victory is a key benefit of running, cardio is important for multiple other reasons…wrestling bears, jumping buildings, or running to an airport gate to grab a connection that you are minutes away from missing. All things I know you deal with.
But let’s talk about why it is also valuable for your body so you can smack the crap out of your family members in that next game of water volleyball.
What is Cardio?
Cardiovascular exercise, or cardio as the French call it, refers to physical exercise that reinforces your cardiovascular system. That seemed kind of redundant.
A word that is often used with cardio is aerobic. Aerobic just means “in the presence of oxygen” or “with oxygen”. Simply put cardio or aerobic is exercise that increases your heart rate and increases circulation and blood flow in your body. The terms aerobic and cardio can be synonymous because the same thing is happening. We are doing the same thing here: pumping blood through your heart.
In order for any exercise to be considered “cardio” it has to be sustained for a long enough period of time to require higher levels of oxygen intake to support blood flow. It also shows up with a raised heart rate.
In order for true cardio to be going on, there should be consistent, repetitive movement for at least 5 minutes. Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups like your legs or the muscles around your torso. Some examples are:
- watching episodes of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette,
- listening to Clay Aiken while kicking and fist pumping,
- stair climbing,
- mountain hiking,
- repetitive hugging,
- “owling” in 25 places under 6 minutes,
- dance programs, and
(Some of these are maybe a little exaggerated…can you guess which ones? Free cardio for whoever gets it!)
Contrary to what I had even thought for a while, stop and start activities like baseball, tennis, golf, football, basketball, yard work are not primary for fat burning like these other methods. There is more of a rhythmic nature with the cardio exercises mentioned. The stop and start exercises will help as we will talk about later, but they don’t classify as true cardio.
Why should I do cardio? With exercise comes a big heart, or a bigger heart. Your heart grows to respond to the more pumping of blood needed to handle fitness. The wall and blood vessels expand as well so oxygen and nutrients can more freely move to the heart muscle.
As we take better care of our bodies by exercising and eating well, we not only widen the arteries that carry the blood away from the heart, but also the veins that return the blood back to your heart.
Think of it like a lake with pipes flowing to other locations and circling back. If those pipes are smaller, then the water pressure will be higher causing more potential for damage or a complete blockage. The same thing happens with the pipes in our bodies (arteries and veins). As we take care of the arteries and veins through exercise and eating well, they open up more, which lowers our risk for cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Some other cardio benefits include:
- Your organs (lungs, vascular system, heart, etc.) will function better.
- You will get faster bursts and better endurance when exercising or running from mobs or security guards.
- This also means better functioning with your sexual stuff. Lower blood pressure means less need for Cialis.
- And maybe most importantly it will help you if you are pulling a Rocky 4 by running up a mountain yelling “Drago!”.
- These are all great ways to make your friends very jealous. Take that friends!
Another way to annoy your friends with how cool you are is to show a higher level of flexibility. As you start doing cardio, you will build muscle. If you are building muscle, you should also be balancing that with building flexibility of the joints connected to the muscles.
By stretching and doing yoga (forms of cardio), it can make a huge difference in your overall health and impact of any daily movement you make like when you taunt your friends with an offensive gesture. A lack of flexibility and poor diet can slow the progress you make with exercise.
Flexibility helps prevent against the frailty and aging that tends to happen with lazy people. Your bones become fragile, muscles grow weak, and the next thing you know you are one slip away from using your life alert. And yes that means more laughter from mean family and friends.
So mix in some yoga or stretching days to keep your body agile.
Endurance and Stamina
Not only do you live longer, but cardio makes a big difference in anything involving breathing. Without cardio…well you start to realize how difficult it becomes to do the any sort of extended exercise. Eventually it moves to even the small things.
Endurance and stamina are key lifelong health. The more you have, the healthier your heart is.
While they may seem like very similar words, Robb Wolf explains that endurance and stamina are actually two different things, “stamina relates to local muscular work, while endurance is the ability of the heart and lungs to carry oxygen through the body.”
Stamina seems to play a bigger role in resistance or strength training, while endurance has to deal more with cardio. These two do work hand in hand to make life easier for the other one, but they are a bit different.
As you get more and more out of shape it becomes progressively noticeable you can’t do what you once did.
First, it start with struggling to play pick-up basketball games with friends or children, then it moves to simple daily activities like walking to a bus or up a flight of stairs. Next thing you know you have to use a wheelchair, walker, cane, etc.
So let’s forget for a minute the obvious stuff of long term chronic diseases that we tend to mention here at Know My Body. Stop for a second…just think of the function you have today with your body, the breathing, the moving, etc. Isn’t that a good thing? Think now of what it would be like without those things.
What may be even worse is thinking of the capabilities you could have today, but you don’t. These could be things you used to be able to do, but now you can’t.
One of the best things about cardio and getting into shape is that before you start you may have very little understanding of the potential that exists inside of your body. Once you get in shape, cardio becomes like an addictive drug that is worth taking. This drug is natural, real, and lasting. There doesn’t have to be the crash.
You begin to wonder about all of the possibilities your body may have. Could you run a marathon, train for an event, or maybe something as simple as being able to walk again? Exercise can literally save and liberate your overall happiness. Oh and it can help you show off a bit too.
When Should I Do Cardio?
The simple answer is whenever. It doesn’t have that huge of an impact. With that said, I have seen the most success personally and others by exercising early in the morning when first waking up.
If you can do it without food in your system or at least with limited amount of food like lean fresh protein, some fat, and maybe vegetables, then you are solid. In the morning your body stores less glucose and glycogen so your body burns your fat storage earlier in your work out compared to when you work out later on in the day.
You also get a longer metabolic burn from working out first thing in the morning, your hormone levels are more stable, and your day just seems to go better. You are more alert, there are no mid-day crashes and it feels like you are hitting on all cylinders in every aspect of your life.
Ohhhhh! It looks like your friends are going to get even more jealous of you!
Working out in the middle of the day or afternoon is fine as well, but I would avoid late night cardio. When you get closer in the evening to going to bed your body’s metabolic rate also lowers dramatically and more importantly your hormonal levels slow down as well. For that reason you should avoid working out late at night if you can. It will allow your body to wind down properly and get solid sleep.
One word of caution, while it is helpful to work out early, it is even more important to get a consistent 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Don’t sacrifice sleep so you can get up at 4am on 3-6 hours of sleep just to work out. You are spinning your wheels if you do. Lack of sleep means higher levels of cortisol (a hormone) in your body that helps to promote fat. Your best bet is to get enough sleep, wake up when your body tells you, and then work out.
Does Cardio Cause Muscle Loss?
One concern that many bodybuilders have is that cardio is going to cause them to lose muscle and look less attractive than their friends. It is possible, but this is why you eat lean animal protein to maintain muscle. Then if you meatheads throw down fat and veggies to keep your energy levels up, you should be fine.
You are much more likely to lose muscle from improper eating compared to over-training with cardio. With that said, I wouldn’t exceed 60 minutes of cardio during one exercise session. You can get all you need in 20-30 minutes as long as it is intense and varied. If you start to exercise more, then eat more protein, veggies, and fat to maintain energy and lean mass.
Should I Be Careful About Over-training?
Is there such a thing as too much cardio? There are two double-edged swords that come with cardio are endurance and stamina. As you work out more, your endurance and stamina increase. There comes a point that your endurance and stamina peak. While they are different, they are both equally impacted by over-training.
Another issue with over-training is cortisol. As you over train this puts a lot of stress on your body. Your hormones, namely cortisol, sense this stress on the body and start to panic like a 5 year old wanting to go pee. Volatile cortisol levels cause your body to retain more glucose as fat in your body, leading to minimal fat loss and potentially fat gain. Next your antioxidant levels deplete and that increases the levels of oxidative stress on your body. That means even more cortisol now and in turn more fat.
With all of these reasons, this is why quick high-intensity interval training is key to healthy progress. Short bursts of cardio mixed up with consistent movement can help prevent the cellular and neurological adaptations that happen with too much cardio. That means your body has to keep guessing and can’t adapt to the exercise. With more variety, it means your body has to exert more energy to keep up. That translates into more fat loss for you.
So how much cardio? Just remember your body is like a car. You have only so many miles on it before you have to go in the shop to get repairs. If you can avoid a lot of unnecessary movement in order to get to your goals, you should always try to do that. To be safe 20-40 minutes of cardio, 3-5 times a week should be safe.
What About Endurance Athletes?
So I know some of you are way into marathons, triathlons and similar endurance sports. That is extremely impressive. I don’t have very much experience with that. I am sure after reading some of this it may cause some confusion or concern.
You can be healthy with long-distance training, but you have to be smart about it. For a better resource on how to handle endurance training while maintaining lean mass, I recommend reading Joe Friel’s Training Bible collections for mountain biking, cyclists, and triathlons as well as The Paleo Diet for Athletes.
Friel is a well-known endurance trainer that has trained Olympic athletes. He also was the founder and past chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission.
A Strong Warning: As we dive deeper into fitness, I want to make sure you are being cautious and safe. You have to make sure to consult a physician, doctor, or a certified health individual that can give you clean bill of health to start working out if you haven’t in a while or if you are doing something new.
Some of you have been working out for years and this won’t be an issue, but some have not thought about sweating for years. Either way I am excited to learn from you and work with you, but please be safe and smart about this and ease your way in.