Cardio (short for cardiovascular exercise) helps immensely when it comes to getting in shape, but your weight isn't the the only thing that benefits from regular sweat sessions. From your brain to your muscles to your mood, cardiovascular exercise is one of the best activities you can do to keep yourself healthy.
If you want to protect your brain from the natural cognitive decline that aging causes, as well as from Alzheimer's disease, then make sure to get in regular cardio exercise. This form of exercises increases blood flow to the brain, improving memory and thinking ability and decreasing the risk of stroke.
How does cardio do this? Exercise reduces insulin resistance, reduces inflammation and activates the release of chemicals in the brain that affect the health of cells, as well as the growth of new blood vessels in the brain.
When you think cardio, most people think about keeping their waistline in check. It does help with this, of course, but it benefits your body in so many other ways, too.
- Muscles: Cardio might not target the muscles the way strength training does, but it does help keep them working and active. Additionally, cardio boosts oxygen supply to the muscles, which allows them to adapt to a higher workload.
- Pancreas: Cardio reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving your pancreas' ability to control blood sugar.
- Lungs: The more cardio you do, the stronger your lungs get — and the ability to do even harder cardio improves. Cardiovascular exercise also reduces lung fatigue and shortness of breath, particularly for those who suffer from chronic lung problems.
- Bones and joints: Weight-bearing cardio activity (like running or walking) strengthens your bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and arthritis. It also maintains range of motion in your joints.
- Energy: Cardio exercise releases endorphins, boosting your energy.
Simply put, when you engage in regular cardio activity, you'll feel better. Habitual cardio exercise boosts your energy by releasing endorphins and helps combat symptoms of anxiety and depression by releasing tension-fighting hormones, serotinin, dopamine and norepineprine.
You'll also sleep better by providing a calming effect to your brain, as well regulating your circadian rhythm — but don't do cardio too close to your bedtime or you might be a little too hyped up to immediately go to sleep.
Finally, exercising regularly will likely help improve your self-esteem and confidence, as a side of effect of losing weight (if that's your goal), boosting muscle mass and simply feeling better about your healthy body.