You might visit the gym regularly to manage your weight, hone your 6-pack, or blow-off everyday stress. But don’t forget, exercise is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for preventing serious disease, particularly heart disease and stroke.
Your heart is your hardest working muscle. If your ticker remains healthy enough to maintain an average 72 beats per minute for 80 years, it will beat an astonishing 3,027,456,000 times.
Nothing conditions and protects the heart as much as a good, strong workout. There is no question that cardiovascular exercise is important to heart health. But which is best: fast and furious or low and steady? The answers might surprise you.
All activity is cardiovascular in some sense
Whether you’re walking, running, lifting weights or flipping tires, you’re using your cardio-pulmonary system (i.e. your heart and lungs) to circulate oxygen around your body.
Low intensity, steady state exercise is great if you are out of shape and getting back into exercise.
After that, resistance training is a more efficient way of achieving fat loss. Not only does it helps build muscle tissue – which is the body’s metabolic furnace – but it also develops your cardiovascular capacity. Activities like walking and cycling at low intensity only do the latter.
High intensity interval training is best
Research has shown time and time again that high intensity intervals, whether on a bike, repeated sprints, swimming or weight circuits have a greater impact on aerobic capacity than low intensity steady state exercise.
However, this type of exercise is demanding on the body’s muscular, nervous and cardiopulmonary systems and capacity must be developed gradually. So if you’re just starting out, build up slowly to give your body a chance to adjust.
Remember any new exercise will create an adaptation.
Low-intensity cardio is not as beneficial
While long, slow duration cardio burns calories during the session, it has little impact on your resting metabolic rate.
Most people train around 4 hours per week and rest the other 164 hours. So it stands to reason that, for optimal fat loss, we’d want to affect what happens at rest as much as possible. Resistance training and high intensity intervals can do this.
The other catch with steady state cardio is that once your body has adapted, which it will fairly quickly, you have to either go faster or longer to keep seeing results. That can be tricky in terms of time constraints, not to mention boring!
Long-duration cardio still has it's place
Long duration cardio is great for stress relief and general cardiovascular health and can be suitable as an introduction to physical activity. It also has a place in sports preparation for certain athletes, but usually in combination with, not instead of, interval-based training.
Get more from rigorous cardio
The main benefits of a high intensity cardio workout are an increased resting metabolic rate, meaning increased fat burning at rest (yay!), increased aerobic capacity (i.e. a stronger heart), and that awesome feeling of knowing you have pushed yourself hard!
Try these high-intensity cardio workouts
Fast intervals on the treadmill are a great high-intensity cardio workout. Alternate short sprints and fast-paced walking.
Another great high-intensity cardio activity is metabolic circuits. They consist of a variety of exercises such as tire flips, bodyweight exercises, ropes and kettlebells. These routines are fun, diverse and fantastic for elevating your heart rate, developing your aerobic base and burning lots of fat!
How often to do high-intensity cardio
At least 4 times per week for 30 minutes, but the more active you can be on a daily basis, the better it will be for your heart, lungs, and waistline.
How to build up cardio capacity
Start slowly and build up little and often. If you can, invest in a program from a credible personal trainer. They can get you started on a program that is suitable for you and your body.
Slow and steady cardio is not a must
Pretty much all resistance training and interval training will significantly strengthen cardiac muscle by elevating your heart rate and developing your cardiopulmonary system. In fact, these types of activities have been proven by research to be more effective for developing strength, speed and endurance than slow, steady state cardio anyway!
Don't become a victim of heart disease
More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from heart attacks and strokes each year. And 1 in 3 Americans dies from some form of cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is, in many cases, a lifestyle disease, which means that it can be prevented by taking the right health measures. The Heart Foundation recommends the following in order to protect your hardest working muscle:
- Avoid smoking
- Control high blood pressure and cholesterol
- Control diabetes, if you are diabetic
- Remain physically active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Maintain social networks