We’ve all heard it time and time again: To lose fat and drop unwanted pounds, you’ve got to go for the burn! Get that heart rate up and blast away calories with frequent, intense cardio workouts. Well, in part that’s definitely true. Cardio workouts do burn loads of calories, and they’re crucial if you’re trying to lose weight. They also keep your heart in tip-top shape.
But there’s more to cardio than meets the eye, and there’s more to working out than just cardio. Read on for some tips about getting the most of our your cardio exercise, and for reasons why you might want to shake up your workout routine with some strength training, too.
Why Do Cardio?
As we’ve already discussed, cardio exercise — that heart-pumping, vigorous exercise such as running, bicycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, playing tennis, brisk walking, or stair-climbing — blasts away calories during your workout sessions like nothing else.
If you’re looking to lose weight, you have to include cardiovascular workouts into your exercise regimen for the best — and quickest — results.
To maintain your weight.
Burning calories through cardio workouts helps counteract the calories you ingest via your diet, keeping the calories-in vs. calories-out equation just where you want it.
When you’re working out regularly, you can generally enjoy a few more treats or “extras” in your diet than you otherwise could, while still maintaining your desired weight. Let’s face it: a life without an occasional treat would be pretty grim indeed! Cardio lets you have your cake and eat it, too… at least some of the time.
To stay healthy.
Aside from the weight implications of cardiovascular exercise, there are many other health benefits of cardio workouts. Regular cardio exercise keeps your heart strong, your blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol under control, and it lowers your risk of many diseases like diabetes and cancer.
To tone up.
True, resistance training is the superior method for improving muscle mass and tone, but cardio workouts tone and tighten your muscles, too. Consider the toned calves of the trail runner or the rock-hard quads of the cyclist.
The fact is, consistent cardio workouts will tone up your soft areas and contribute to an overall sleeker, leaner appearance. Who wouldn’t want that?
How Do You Maximize Your Cardio Benefits?
To really reap the benefits of cardio exercise, you need to include it into your life in a frequent basis.
Saving your physical activity for a session or two on weekends won’t get you too far toward your weight-loss or athletic goals. Instead, try to be active and work up a sweat on most days of the week.
Do it for a long enough time.
For minimum health, 20 minutes is probably fine. But to meet the Surgeon General’s recommendations for best health outcomes and good weight management, you’ll need to engage in cardio exercise for at least an hour a day. Don’t worry — you can always break this up into several smaller chunks if need be.
Remember that for a cardio workout to really benefit you, you need to put in the effort. If you can easily carry on a conversation or sing a song while exercising, you’re not working hard enough.
Make sure you enjoy it.
The best tip for getting the most out of your cardio workout is simply to choose one that is enjoyable to you. You’ll be much more likely to stick with your workout regimen if you actually like what you’re doing. Consider what type of activity is fun for you, and use that for your cardio exercise if possible.
Is Cardio Enough?
For true fitness and health, you need strength training as well as cardio. But let’s take a more detailed look into why you should add strength training — or sets of exercises using weights, bands or your own body weight as resistance to build your lean muscle mass — to your workout routine in addition to your heart-pumping cardio sessions.
Muscle mass burns more calories.
While it’s true that I just told you cardio workouts burn lots of calories while you’re doing them, weight-lifting and other types of strength training have their own calorie-burning benefits. Your body burns calories every minute of every day just to operate your biological systems and keep you alive.
But body fat doesn’t burn as many calories as lean muscle mass does. So, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns all the time, even when you’re not exercising. In other words, building muscle speeds up your metabolism.
Strength training tones and tightens your muscles.
There’s nothing like strength training for reshaping your body. Sure, cardio workouts melt away fat, but resistance workouts tone and strengthen the muscles underneath, which can give you a smoother, leaner shape.
It’s good for your bones.
Strength training has been shown to be very effective at maintaining bone mass and strength. As you age, bone loss can be a serious problem, leading to falls and fractures. Lifting weights helps keep your bones strong and healthy.
You’ll get faster weight-loss or fat-loss results.
Most of us, when dieting and exercising to lose weight and body fat, want to see results as fast as possible.
While any exercise paired with a reduced-calorie diet will help you move toward your goal, adding in two or three strength training workouts per week to your routine will jump-start the process or help you move past any weight-loss plateaus you may encounter.
Exercise regularly and challenge yourself
Clearly, there are numerous benefits to both cardio and strength training workouts, and you really can’t go wrong by adding any type of exercise into your lifestyle — particularly if you’ve been sedentary up until now.
But there are also clear ways to get the most out of any exercise workout: by exercising regularly and challenging yourself, by including different types of exercise into your routine, and by engaging in exercise for enough time each week to truly benefit your heart, lungs, body fat level, muscle mass, and other aspects of your body.
The best workout routine is one that incorporates both cardiovascular and strength training exercise and that includes activities you enjoy and can see including in your life on an ongoing basis.
Working out should be a regular part of your lifestyle — one that strengthens your body, helps you feel good about your appearance and protects against health problems. For help staying motivated on a daily basis, check out our annual PRO Plan today!