“Cardio” is any physical activity that temporarily raises the heart rate well above its resting pace. Examples of cardio include everything from vigorous dancing, to running, swimming, playing basketball; really, anything that gets the heart pumping hard.
Cardio is appropriately named. It makes the heart beat faster, but it also works to strengthen overall cardiovascular function. Given that heart disease remains our number one killer, doing cardio is a very good thing indeed.
Sitting is the New Smoking
Think of “doing cardio” as the opposite of being sedentary. Sedentary behavior—essentially, sitting too much and moving too little—is increasingly linked to a number of adverse health outcomes. In fact, it’s now generally recognized as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, much like high cholesterol or smoking.
Even worse, sedentary behavior promotes poor cardiovascular health in a “dose-dependent” fashion. “Dose-dependent” is doctor-speak for a simple phenomenon: The more you sit, the worse your health will be. Fortunately, even a little cardio can be remarkably beneficial, especially when done on a regular basis. And, just as you must choose to engage in exercise, sitting should also be viewed as an active choice. It’s a behavior like any other than has health consequences. In this instance, it’s an “activity” that robs you of cardiovascular fitness, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Cardio is Good Medicine
Physical activity—especially cardio —is the antidote to too much sitting. As noted in a recent issue of the journal, Current Opinion in Cardiology, “Low doses of physical activity, preferably at a high intensity, significantly reduce the risk for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.” That’s right. Engaging in even short bouts of intense cardio can yield significant health benefits.
And it’s not just about protecting your heart and blood vessels. Nor is it simply about reducing heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or elevated blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). Cardio also yields reduced risks of other serious ailments, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even certain cancers. Conversely, sedentary behavior is so toxic, it’s even been linked to decreases in cognitive performance. That means, in essence, that people who do not get up and move enough don’t learn, reason, or think as well as their more active peers.
Not surprisingly, sedentary behavior is also linked to increased body weight. That’s a polite way of saying that people who spend too much time sitting are far more likely to be obese. And obesity is clearly a growing problem (puns aside) that affects populations all over the world. Obesity, in turn, is another risk factor for heart disease.
The link between sitting and type 2 diabetes is disturbing. Research shows that increased time spent sitting is linked to lower insulin sensitivity. This is a troubling condition that can eventually lead to blood sugar levels that are too high. Left untreated, or unaddressed by lifestyle changes, this condition often progresses to full-blown type 2 diabetes. Many people with this common disease end up dependent on insulin injections. What many do not realize is that type 2 diabetes is often reversible, at least initially, with better diet and increased activity. And that included anything from walking to more intensive cardio-type exercises.