Years ago, aerobic exercise was all the rage and lifting weights was kind of weird. Anyone who wanted to be fit knew they had to do cardio to get the job done. People walked, ran, cycled, and swam their way to better health. They even started inventing aerobics classes to make things more interesting. But today it seems that the pendulum has swung the other way. A lot of fitness minded people will tell you to lift weights and forego cardio entirely. After all, lifting weights can make you just as healthy as cardio and running on a treadmill is boring, right?
Unfortunately, this is a short sighted view of fitness and health. Obviously we are a bit biased toward strength ourselves as evidenced by our company name. But we still believe that cardio is important for nearly any fitness program. Cardio doesn’t have to be boring and repetitive to be effective. Plus, It has a whole host of benefits including improving our organ health and promoting a better mood. And while lifting weights does have its unique benefits, you can actually improve your results by adding in a bit of aerobic exercise. In the end, leaving cardio out of your fitness program may be the biggest mistake you can make!
As the name should imply, cardiovascular exercise does wonders for your heart health. One of the first thing that happens when you train regularly is a drop in heart rate. This is accompanied by decreased tone and a higher stroke volume per beat of the heart. This means you pump more blood while exerting less effort. Additionally, the decrease in tone helps to lower your blood pressure taking even more burden off of your ticker.
Another thing benefit to cardio would be the impact is has on your cholesterol. Not only will you see a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL (the bad kind), but your HDL (the good kind) will increase. The increase in HDL is actually an adaptation you can’t get form lifting weights. Overall, these adaptations combine to significantly increase your quality of life and decrease your risk of various chronic diseases.
Brain and Mood
If you’ve ever done cardio for a long enough period of time, you may have noticed the feel good effect that it can have. This is due to the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that make you feel happy and calm. But the feel good effect isn’t just limited to the exercise session itself. Over time, cardio can make permanent changes to brain chemistry which increases happiness and decreases feelings of depression and anxiety.
If that isn’t enough, cardio can actually make you smarter as well. Studies show that regular aerobic exercise results in improved mental function and neuroplasticity. This happens partly because of the neurotransmitter mentioned above. However, much of these brain boosting effects are due to a hormone called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor which actually works to grow new brain cells and improve processing power.
All of these effects can also be achieved through resistance exercise. But each exercise type has slightly different magnitudes of release in each neurotransmitter and hormone. You’re much better off combing both resistance and aerobic training and reaping double the benefit.
Cardio Actually Helps your Get Stronger
I mentioned earlier that cardio helps improves your cardiovascular health (again, it’s all in the name). But what you might not know is that those improvements to vascular health actually help you get stronger too. The increased blood flow helps drive more nutrients and oxygen to the muscles while lifting weights. Consequently, you’re able to squeeze out a few more reps and recover faster between sets. Over time, that extra work adds up and you end up with bigger, stronger muscles.
Additionally, aerobic exercise increases the number of mitochondria you have in your muscles. The main purpose of these mitochondria is to make ATP (energy) for your tissues to do work. In other words, they make it possible for your muscles to contract, grow, and repair. Having more mitochondria means you have more ATP to use when lifting weights. It also means that you will be able to recover much faster between sessions. Once again, this allows you to do more work over time which will result in even biggerer, strongerer muscles.
Last but not least, doing a bit of cardio after you lift weights weight has been shown to reduce muscle soreness quite a bit. This is certainly a welcome benefit as nobody likes being super sore after a workout (normal people don’t at least). And being less sore means you can work out more often. This means you can do more work over time which will result in big…..you get the picture.
It is hard to ignore all of the potential benefits that you will receive from adding in a bit of cardio into your program. The increase in heart and brain health should be reason enough to get your aerobic on. But if that isn’t enough, you are actually losing out on gains if you forego cardio altogether.
The fact of the matter is that smart application of conditioning in your program will enhance your results, not negate them. However, each person is an individual and will need a different dose to see the best results. Once you do get the right combination of cardio and lifting in your program, you’ll be sure to reap the rewards of improved health and fitness!