For decades, the so-called “experts” have praised the benefits of cardio, almost at the exclusion of any other form of athletic training.
In 1989, for example, a benchmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended that adults walk at a moderate pace (3 mph) for 30 minutes per day to improve fitness and decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality risk.
In 2010, however, the same organization released a new study, claiming that in order for women to maintain their current weight, they need to perform moderate exercise 60 minutes a day, seven days a week… who has that kind of time?!
Most of us don’t, but thankfully, researchers are just now beginning to study the effects that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are having on weight loss, health, and overall fitness, and so far, their findings come as good news for those of us with busy lives.
If you’re sick of trying to cram hours of cardio into your already hectic schedule, or you’re failing to stay motivated with the same old treadmill routine, here’s what you really need to know about cardio:
More Isn’t Always Better
If you’re an endurance athlete, prolonged periods of aerobic activity are necessary as part of your sport-specific training routine. If you’re not, you may be surprised to learn that physiologically, too much cardio can hinder your fitness and weight loss.
Studies have found that after 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, cortisol levels in the body rise significantly—this stress hormone inhibits weight loss and increases abdominal fat.
Excessive cardio also decreases muscle mass, metabolism, immune function, and can lead to fitness imbalance and injury.
HIIT Cardio Gives You More Bang For Your Buck
HIIT sessions typically consist of short bursts of high-intensity exercise which last only for 15-20 minutes.
In 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services equated 75 minutes of vigorous exercise to the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise it recommends to achieve optimal health benefit—now those are numbers most of us can work with! Similarly, studies have found that HIIT participants burned as many as 15 calories per minute, compared to the 4.5 calories per minute one might burn walking at 3 mph.
Up the intensity of your cardio to ramp up weight loss and improve overall fitness.
Build Muscle To Burn More Fat
No one’s saying that cardio isn’t a useful way to create a caloric deficit to reduce body fat, but that fact is, lean muscle burns more calories than fat does (10 pounds of muscle burns 50 calories while at rest, while 10 pounds of fat only burns 20!). Strength training and vigorous exercise will not only lead to muscle growth, but elevates your metabolism even after you’ve finished your workout.
Fool Your Body (And Your Mind)
If you perform the same moderate-intensity aerobic activity day in and day out, your body will eventually adapt to it, leading to diminished results (a.k.a decreased calorie burn and muscle development) over time. To get the most out of your cardio, it’s crucial to introduce a variety of movements and intensities each session or over the course of the week to keep your body guessing. Not to mention, many people quit working out altogether because 60+ minutes on the treadmill, elliptical, or stair-stepper is.not.fun.
Your workout should be one of the most enjoyable parts of your day; adding new, as well as anaerobic elements to your cardio training will be a sure way to keep you motivated.