The Surprising Benefits of Cardiovascular Fitness

The Surprising Benefits of Cardiovascular Fitness

David Schutz

What is the most important muscle in your body? Your heart. So why is it that heart disease the leading causes of mortality for people over 45? The answer is simple: more than 30 percent of our population is entirely sedentary. Does that include you? If so, think about this: for most people, cardiovascular fitness is perhaps the easiest to achieve of the 5 essential components of physical fitness.

And the good news is that cardiovascular exercise is great for your entire body - and by the way, getting that exercise outside is even better! A recent study on firefighters showed that the ones who had greater cardiovascular fitness (not stronger or more flexible) had a much lower incidence of back injuries. This makes sense, when you consider that movement lubricates your joints and enhances elasticity in your tendons and ligaments. This is precisely why it’s important to warm up for a strength training session with cardiovascular activity.

So how much of aerobic exercise do you need?

The CDC's latest recommendation for cardiovascular health is that you need 150 minutes per week, which could be five days of 30-minute moderate intensity exercise or three days of 1 hour exercise. According to the CDC, you can even do this 10 minutes at a time. Remember, that’s the minimum! 150 minutes isn’t going to get you to top conditioning, but it's the amount of exercise that studies show is necessary to protect your heart from cardiovascular disease and increase your longevity.

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The really good news is that when you go from sedentary to something active like walking briskly, riding a bike, getting on a rowing machine, or swimming, you produce the greatest positive effect on health protection. Obviously you get more benefit with more effort, but think of it as a steep curve that flattens out pretty quickly. Nothing produces more dramatic benefits than shifting from being a couch potato to simply taking a daily walk or doing a little gardening.

If you’re currently sedentary, your goal should be to start getting 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. You'll look and feel better, and you'll be healthier to boot. Interestingly, once you start doing that 30 minutes most days of the week, studies show that not only will your heart benefit, but you’ll experience other benefits, from longer life span to lower cancer risk.

As always, it’s best to mix it up, and best to get as much of your body into your cardiovascular routine as you can. When you go from walking to Nordic walking, you’re getting your upper body involved. Swimming is better than walking or bicycling. Rowing is also great. But if you’re starting from nothing, you already have shoes, get out there and go for a walk.

The hardest part is just to start. For some reason it’s hard for people to make big changes. Don’t try to. The faster you try to change, the more likely you are to backslide. Start doing something now, and add more each week. As Nike says, “Just do it.”

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