What is cardiovascular fitness?
Cardiovascular fitness (also called aerobic fitness) is your body’s ability to use oxygen to produce energy during physical activity. This requires the coordination of multiple systems in the body: respiratory (lungs), cardiovascular (heart, blood vessels), and musculoskeletal (muscles). The lungs are responsible for bringing oxygen into your body before the heart and vessels transport it to the rest of your body. Then, the muscles use that oxygen to produce energy for movement. Performing cardiovascular exercise regularly is very important as it trains these three systems to work together to become more efficient, which will ultimately provide more health benefits for your mind and body.
Benefits of cardiovascular fitness
1. Improves overall health
The most important benefit of aerobic exercise is that it can improve your overall health and quality of life. Performing this regularly has been found to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart failure, stroke, blood clots, and atherosclerosis. Just like any other muscle in your body, your heart can get bigger and stronger too. Consistently performing aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and vessels, allowing blood to be pumped and moved more efficiently throughout the body. This can improve blood flow, causing the force on your vessels to decrease, improving your blood pressure.
Along with decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, aerobic exercise has been found to decrease the risk for several cancers, Type 2 diabetes, and even decrease the risk of death compared to those who are not active. There are so many different benefits you can add to your overall health by simply adding aerobic exercise to your daily routine!
2. Weight management
If improving overall health isn’t enough of a benefit, aerobic exercises have also been proven to help with weight management. These exercises are great because you can burn a lot of calories in one single session, helping you lose weight and get rid of unwanted fat. It is, however, important to note that nutrition is the most important part of weight control. Focusing solely on exercise will not help you achieve your goals as effectively.
3. Improves cognition
Everyone knows exercise makes your body stronger, but did you know it keeps your brain strong too? It has been found that performing aerobic exercise can improve cognitive function skills such as attention, problem-solving, and memory. Exercise results in more oxygen and blood flow to the brain and stimulates different areas in the brain which help form new connections. These are both important for improving higher-order thinking.
4. Improves mood
Since cardiovascular exercise improves cognitive functions, this helps to decrease anxiety and depression, which ultimately boosts your overall mood! When engaging in physical activity, your body releases hormones and neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, which keep you feeling good. Regular exercise also provides a sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment, especially when you begin to see and feel the results. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health, and cardiovascular exercise improves both at the same time, so why not give it a shot?
5. Improves quality of sleep
Who can say they don’t want a better sleep? Aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality, and even improve energy levels throughout the day. When exercising, your body utilizes energy that can make you more tired at night, giving you a deeper sleep. And since it’s good for your brain as well, cardiovascular exercise reduces mental stress, allowing for a good night’s rest. Studies have even shown that Aerobic exercise helps those who suffer from insomnia or sleep apnea.
6. Improves independence with aging
Typically, the older we get, the less independent we are. But, that doesn’t have to be the case! Participating in aerobic exercise can decrease the risk of falls by increasing balance and improving the muscular endurance of muscles. It also decreases the cognitive decline typically seen with aging. Do your future self a favour and start being active today!
Recommendations for health benefits
For the general adult population, Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend an accumulation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of at least 10 minutes. Just 150 minutes per week has the most benefits. This means exercising as little as 20 minutes a day can have major benefits on your health and wellness!
An easy way to know if you are at the right intensity of exercise is by using the Talk Test. Your ability to hold a conversation can determine your exercise intensity.
- Low intensity: Able to have a normal conversation without being short of breath
- Moderate intensity: Can only have brief sentences, but can still hold a conversation
- Vigorous intensity: Can only say a few words at a time because you need to gasp for air
There are many different types of cardiovascular exercise to choose from, ranging from light intensity options such as walking, and doing chores around the house, to more intense options such as running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, hiking, climbing, or playing sports. Choosing an activity you enjoy will help you stay consistent. The opportunities are almost endless, so be creative and find something you enjoy that gets your heart rate up!
Though it’s important you choose activities you enjoy, it’s even more important to choose something safe, as some of these options can place more stress on your body than others, which can lead to serious injuries. If new to exercise, always start with lower intensity options for short durations. Then, as your body gets used to the regular exercise, increase the intensity and time to keep yourself challenged. Lastly, if you have any underlying medical conditions, seek help from a professional to clear you to participate in the exercise.
Note: Please speak with your clinician or a health professional if you are unsure about attempting any kind of cardiovascular exercise.
This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Jesse Schmid, a Physiotherapy student at Queen’s University.