Your running or kickboxing regimen does more than burn fat. We deconstruct the science behind cardiovascular exercise so you can get more from your workout.
Most of us think of burning fat and losing weight whenever we think of cardio workouts. People who don’t exercise much probably associate it with working up a sweat, as well as feeling uncomfortable and short of breath. In other words, cardio is a synonym for suffering for some couch potatoes.
The bad news is it is a necessary evil if you want to stay healthy as you age. The good news is cardio does a lot more than burn fat. Even those blessed with the skinny gene benefit from cardiovascular exercise. Here’s what else you need to know:
Q: What counts as a cardiovascular exercise?
A: An activity that raises and challenges your heart rate, lungs and blood circulatory system, according to Tommy Yau, head of education at fitness education centre Fit Singapore.
During cardiovascular exercise, both the heart and blood vessels work to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles, adds Dr Lim Baoying, a resident physician at Changi Sports Medicine Centre.
You should also be able to maintain the workout at a consistent intensity, according to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), considered to be the authority on sports medicine by many sports practitioners.
Q: So even gardening can be considered as a cardio workout?
A: Essentially, yes. It’s not necessary for you to be sweating buckets to have a cardio workout. Dr Lim says that as long as there are repetitive movements of large muscle groups (even squatting up and down to move flower pots), which inadvertently generate perspiration, you are having a cardio workout.
Q: Surely not all cardio workouts are created equal?
A: The ACSM has set broad guidelines for categorising cardio workouts: Those that require few skills and those that require more. Jogging and cycling fall into the first category as they call mostly for effort and constant intensity, while sports like horse riding and dancing belong in the second category.
According to Dr Lim, the output in the former depends on the energy expended and not skills. In the latter, a person is likely to burn more calories if he’s more skilled, as he can perform the exercise longer and harder.
Q: So what does cardio really do for the body?
A: Weight loss is just part of the equation. Regular cardio exercise improves your health in multiple ways. It strengthens the heart muscles, equalises blood pressure, and reduces the risk of diabetes, heart attacks and depression.
It also lowers cholesterol, changes the fat-to-muscle ratio, and reduces body weight and fat stores. In short, it is likely to lengthen your life expectancy and improve your quality of life.
Q: Since cardio is multifunctional, is it the best workout for everyone?
Dr Lim recommends stretching at least twice a week, working each major muscle-tendon group for at least 60 seconds per exercise to maintain a wide range of joint movement.
She adds that resistance exercises for each major muscle group as well as functional training should be done two to three times a week, as they improve bone mass, plus balance, agility and coordination. The best workout is an all-rounded one – see what’s the best exercise for your age here.