The heart is the engine room of the body. Along with the lungs, it is responsible for the supply and extraction of everything that the body needs to work, and its function is critical to our survival. But the heart is a muscle, and like all our other muscles it is susceptible to change with age and inactivity. The ability of our heart and lungs to function effectively limits how hard we can work. Inactivity plays a large part of this leading to loss of muscle, increase in weight, and a reduction in the ability of our bodies to effectively use energy.
These changes are reversible. With exercise training, it is possible to have a massive effect on how we age and function, allowing us to live healthy and active lives for many more years.
So, what exactly is cardiovascular training? Some might say running or cycling, but the term cardiovascular exercise could describe any activity that raises our heart rate and increases blood-flow around the body. What most of us think of as being tardio work’ is actually aerobic training (with oxygen). This simply means that it is being done at a level where the body is able to use oxygen at a steady rate (hence the expression ‘steady-state training’) to supply energy to the muscles. Jogging and cycling are good examples of this, where we can sustain the activity as long as our energy reserves allow, provided we don’t work too hard.
In contrast, anaerobic training (without oxygen) is done when the demand for energy is so great that we need to rely on other systems of energy delivery to keep us working. This system of energy release is very limited, and although it can supply energy fast, it also runs out quickly. Another cost of this fast delivery of energy is a build-up of substances in the muscle that can cause fatigue; slowing down or stopping what you’re doing is the only way to relieve this. Weight training helps to train our system for anaerobic work, so this article will concentrate primarily on aerobic exercise. It is important to remember that both weight training and aerobic training have positive effects on our health.
Whenever we do any exercise, we work both anaerobically and aerobically. The reason for this is that our aerobic system takes a few minutes to get going delivering energy to the body. This is why a progressive warm-up is important before running or cycling; if we start out too hard, our bodies can’t keep up with demand for energy and we have to slow down or even stop to allow recovery.
All our energy systems overlap in how we use them. A simple example of this would be running to catch a bus. After a short dash from a standstill, you would find yourself breathing heavily. The reason for this is that we have been working anaerobically to supply energy for the quick sprint. Now that is over, we are breathing hard to use oxygen to replace that lost energy and clear out the effects of the hard sprint.
BENEFITS OF AEROBIC EXERCISE
This is one of the most researched areas of exercise science, and the benefits are well proven across the board. Just about everyone will benefit from increasing their activity levels, but those who are currently inactive will gain the most. In a similar way to strength training, moderate aerobic activity (doing something that makes you sweat and breathe harder) has significant effects, such as: making everyday tasks easier and less tiring;
improving performance in our work, sport and recreation;
improving the health of our heart and lungs;
reducing the risk of death and serious illness, particularly from heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis and stroke;
counteracting the life-shortening effects of obesity, smoking, drinking and inactivity;
improving how we look, feel and function.
It has even been shown that regular aerobic exercise can help counteract genetics. Statistics show that losing a parent to illness before the age of 65 puts the child at a far greater risk of illness and premature death, yet regular exercise has been shown to reduce risk of this by 25 per cent. Exercise has beneficial effects on all manner of conditions including gallstones, asthma, anxiety, insomnia, stress, hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease (by maintaining health and reducing agitation), Parkinson’s disease, and in recovery and rehabilitation from many surgical procedures.
Training for fitness is very different from training for health benefits. To improve fitness, we need to train with enough intensity to keep us improving, but to improve our health we simply need to get more active. From being inactive to doing something that involves movement, such as gardening or walking, you can considerably decrease your risk of serious illness in later Life. Research has shown that regular walkers reduce their risk of a first heart attack by 73 per cent, and those who gardened regularly reduced their risk by 66 per cent compared with others who did nothing. It’s not only heart attacks that activity helps to prevent, either; being active can also have a significant effect on preventing many common diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and even certain types of cancers. Many of these benefits come from the type of activities that may not be ‘fitness-related’ but still have substantial impact on our health, and go to show that doing something is a tot better than doing nothing at all.