By Miguel J. Ortiz
There are plenty of reasons why you should do cardiovascular activity, but the most important is for a strong heart. Beyond the fact that the most important muscle in your body is your heart, the roll that oxygen plays in cardio or strength training is absolutely essential. When exercising, your muscles need to work harder which naturally increases demand for oxygen. Once the oxygen reaches the muscles it begins to convert glucose into ATP (energy). Regardless of how you look at it, when your body has more oxygen you will perform and recover better. You have your heart to thank for that. Yes, the lungs are important, but a strong heart helps move oxygenated blood through the body. So, let’s strengthen the heart. Here are some tips to get the most out of cardio training.
First, warm up. Your basic 5 to 10 minute light stretch is going to prepare the muscles for work and get the heart to start moving blood to the areas being stretched. You can do foam rolling, active stretching, light band work or a speed walk to a light jog and walk again to get the blood flowing. Whatever you do to warm up, don’t skip it. It will have your heart ready for action.
Second, I usually recommend long slow distance (LSD) cardio training that can last 20 to 60 minutes at a low or medium intensity. This is great for beginners, someone looking to introduce cardio to their routine or someone who wants to burn fat. Remember fat can only be burned when oxygen is present in the body, so if you keep your heart rate too high for too long your body has the potential to burn less fat. So, keep a consistent pace to ensure your heart can handle the demand. If you start to cramp or you feel like your heart rate cannot last for the speed you’re at, then simply slow down but try to keep momentum. This way you can find your target “feel good” comfort zone and compare that to your actual heart rate. I do have to add that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help as well, but make sure your recovery times and ability are achievable. It is good to push yourself or test your abilities but make sure you are getting some longer, slower cardio in. The heart thrives in its ability to endure, so train endurance.
Lastly, don’t forget to cool down as it helps lower the heart rate, further strengthening the heart and calming the nervous system. I personally like to perform some light active stretching when I’m done, nothing as intense as my warm up or my recovery days. I do a simple light stretch where I barely hold the movement for a second or two. So, when thinking of cardio, think about strengthening the most important muscle in your body – your heart.
Miguel J. Ortiz is a personal trainer in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of the National Personal Trainer Institute and a Certified Nutritional Consultant with more than a decade of professional experience. He can be found on Instagram at @migueljortiz.