If you like to walk your dog or go for a bike ride, you know what? These are all forms of aerobic exercise or "cardio". "Almost any movement can be considered cardiovascular exercise if it increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping," says Susan Bentley, CPT, trainer and group fitness instructor at 24 Hour Fitness in Folsom, Calif. "This is generally done through repetitive, rhythmic movements that involve large muscle groups such as the legs or back. Of course, traditional things like running, rowing or a yoga class are suitable, but so are activities like playing tag with your kids and climbing stairs in your house," she says.
Roughly speaking, when done consistently (at least 2.5 hours per week for adults), aerobic exercise can improve many of our body systems to keep us healthy. "This includes our cardiovascular, respiratory and circulatory systems," says Bentley. "These benefits have a ripple effect that can gradually have a significant impact on your overall well-being." Read on to learn more about how cardio can improve your health, according to Bentley and scientific researchers.
(It’s important to note that if you have any health problems, you should talk to your doctor before starting a cardio exercise program. Once you get the okay, Bentley advises starting slowly and taking breaks as needed. "If you don’t know how to Begin your fitness journey, visit a gym like 24 H Fitness," says Bentley. "Fitness experts can point you in the right direction, help you discover cardio equipment and a wide range of fun group fitness classes."
Next, be sure to check out the 6 best exercises for strong and toned arms in 2022, says the trainer.
It can improve your brain health and ward off dementia
While your brain is exercising during a cardio dance class on the elliptical trainer or salsa, it has a lot of benefits. "All forms of exercise, including cardio, can trigger new blood vessel growth in the brain, which can improve memory and prevent cognitive decline. Exercise can also [make] the hippocampus [be larger in size]which is responsible for learning and memory," Bentley explains. And if you look specifically at the science around brain health and cardio, there’s a ton to back up Bentley’s arguments – and some more learning from Germany, which found that better cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a higher volume of gray matter, the outermost layer of the brain. It plays a role in many motor and cognitive functions, including memory.
Most impressive, however, is that researchers have found that cardio can help ward off dementia. One Neurology learn from over 1.000 women found that those who had "high cardiovascular fitness" in middle age had about an 88% lower risk of developing dementia than their peers who had only "moderate fitness". While this study only looked at women, other research has suggested similar findings.
Related: Two big benefits of just 10 minutes of walking a day, says new study
It can help ward off cardiovascular disease (CVD)
CVD is "the leading cause of death" in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so it’s beneficial to know that cardiovascular exercise helps ward off cardiovascular disease.
While any form of fitness can protect us from CVD, a learn published in The American Journal of Cardiology concluded that aerobic exercise is the most effective type of exercise to improve health problems associated with metabolic syndrome. According to Bentley, to reap the benefits, you should discover an aerobic workout you enjoy and commit to it at least twice a week. "Being consistent trains the heart to become more efficient. With every workout, the heart gets better at pumping oxygen-rich blood to our muscles and organs. It also gets better at working with the respiratory system to transfer carbon dioxide and life-giving oxygen." Bentley explains. "Over time, this reduces your resting heart rate and respiratory rate and improves cardiovascular health."
Related: What "plogging" does to your body makes it such an effective workout
It can help boost your immune system
To be clear, no form of exercise can magically ward off a cold or protect you from COVID-19 or any other illness. Aerobic exercise, however, can help strengthen the immune system so it’s prepared to fight off germs when they invade. One learnfound, for example, that regular to moderate exercise has positive effects on your immune system through higher levels of immunoglobulin, which are key factors in protecting your body from viruses and bacteria.
It helps to regulate mood, stress levels and anxiety
The next time you feel stressed or anxious, resist the urge to binge-watch Netflix and consider doing some cardio instead. "Cardio is easy, fun, lifts mood and provides mental health benefits [decreasing] levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline," Bentley explains. "Aerobic exercise also increases blood flow and oxygen levels, which are other factors that could help us feel better."
Research led to our understanding of the link between mood and cardio, such as this study of 1.2 million people. After crunching the numbers, researchers found that regular exercisers have an average of 1.5 fewer "mentally bad" days than non-exercisers, with those who complete aerobic workouts reaping the most benefits.
Also, these learn in the diary Menopause Examined data from pre- and post-menopausal women. Those who gained more physical activity through activities such as gardening, walking and biking scored higher on positivity measures and lower on depressive symptoms than women who exercised less often.
It may even help you live longer
Impressive, isn’t it? Research shows that those who follow physical activity guidelines for Americans (at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity cardio) have a significantly reduced risk of death from any cause. This makes sense considering that aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of developing diseases high on the morbidity listincluding cancer and heart disease.
Bottom line: even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes a day, it’s definitely worth incorporating some cardio. Your future self will thank you!