Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cardio isn't just for the Heart

     Get up off of that couch! Inertia KILLS.....are you hearing more and more about people dying younger and younger? Well the reason is INACTIVITY. When the proof of not only the benefits of regular exercise on health is in front of you daily but also the disastrous consequences of not exercising, you’ve got to wake up and DO SOMETHING.

     EVERYBODY NEEDS TO EXERCISE – whether you’re 2, 20 or 100 years old and that’s a proven fact. Don't just start yourself, encourage your parents, children and spouse to do the same. Make sure your kids spend less time in front of the idiot box and more time outdoors or playing sports.

     Cardiovascular exercise or cardio as it is affectionately known by it’s practitioners (including yours truly) is extremely simple to incorporate into your daily routine and may be the answer you were looking for. It is defined as any form of vigorous physical activity which raises the heart rate to around 60 to 85 percent of the heart's maximum heart rate for an extended period of time, usually twenty minutes or longer. 

     It is named thus because it gets the heart (‘kardia’ in Greek) pumping more efficiently, improves blood flow throughout the body supplying more oxygen to each and every cell and bringing back waste products to be disposed of. 

     Cardio or aerobic exercise increases elasticity of blood vessels, keeping them working efficiently and even enhances muscular performance. Around twenty minutes is the basal time that it takes to start fat burning (before that you’re using up stored glucose,) so if you carve out at least 30 - 45 minutes in your day (especially if you have weight or health issues), then here’s what cardio starts doing for you:

  • Improves your quality of life and experience of health within the very first week!
  • Mobilizes abdominal and other body fat, revs up your metabolism and makes the body burn fat for energy even when not exercising.
  • Keeps your heart and entire circulatory system young, clean and healthy, lowering your risk of heart disease.
  • Impels the body to utilise glucose more efficiently leading to lowered risk of Diabetes.
  • Defends DNA against damage, minimizing your risk of developing cancer especially of the colon and breast.
  • Increases stamina and vitality.
  • Strengthens your immune system –you fall ill much less frequently.
  • Lengthens your life span and enhances your quality of life even in your golden years!
  • Causes your body to produce endorphins giving you a positive outlook, boosts mood, reduces stress, enhances self esteem and to a large extent, protects from depression.
     Some people prefer working out indoors. Some forms of Cardio that would work for them are jumping rope and aerobics (step aerobics too). Equipment based exercises such as treadmill, exercise cycle, elliptical or a rowing machine are effective options - commit to using them regularly for the purpose they were designed instead of just to hang laundry. Dancing is also an aerobic exercise provided it is vigorous enough - Freestyle or doing your own thing is fun, exhilarating and a great stress buster. Dancing along with the kids or your spouse is even better for bonding! Learning dance from a professional is great because you burn more calories and are taught how to warm up, cool down, stretch, etc. 

     Exercising outdoors gives you the advantage of fresh air and greenery. Nothing beats walking! If you've never exercised before, this is the safest way to build stamina. Sauntering, wandering, talking to your companion, being occupied with your surroundings or thoughts is not effective - you need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other at a very brisk pace for it to be useful for your health. I find this is easier when I'm counting the number of steps I am taking.

     When you’ve been walking for a week or two, you can include a minute of jogging or running for every ten minutes of walking – incorporating bursts of high intensity exercise during a moderately vigorous routine even if it’s running, swimming, cycling or skipping improves heart efficiency and enhances fat burning. 

     Jogging and running are only differentiated by pace and slight modification of posture and stance. Both are effective but if you're overweight by more than 10 - 15 kilos, get a doctor's approval before you attempt them. There's a lot of debate as to whether to land on the ball of the foot, the middle or the heel. Experts say, do what feels natural to you.

     Playing a sport especially a racquet sport keeps your heart fit. Athletics and kick-boxing too. Unfortunately table tennis (I played for my school team), chess and billiards don't count.....

     Swimming regularly does wonders for all your muscles involved in movement – it is a whole body strength and CARDIO workout and is great for people with arthritis or injuries. Even if you do it once a week, apart from your other regular physical activity, you can reap the benefits.
So dust off that bicycle in your garage, buy some swimming trunks or track pants and good running shoes and START!

Wait......Some ground rules:

  • Consult your doctor- especially if you have any medical conditions.
  • Be safe - get advice on posture, when to stop, and what not to do from experts (the internet is a good resource but there's nothing as good as personal coaching).
  • Find something that you can fit into your daily routine – start slowly and gradually increase your pace / speed and intensity.
  • Keep yourself motivated and be committed – exercise is a lifelong activity though it’s forms may vary.
  • Be adventurous - try different activities

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', July 14th, 2012.

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