Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cardio-Respiratory Training: Why and How Do I Get Started?

Cardio-respiratory exercising is very important to promote overall health and achieve high levels of wellness. Among the benefits, we can consider the following:

• Cardio-respiratory exercises improve our capacity of burning fat as energy.
• By working the heart muscle, we can enlarge it, increasing the capacity of pumping blood with each stroke to working muscles.
• Increase in the amount of oxygen distributed to body tissues.
• Reducing the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, stroke and many other conditions.
• Stress reduction.
• Increase levels of energy.
• Improving your mood. Yes, cardio-respiratory exercises help us feel "happy".

We all have different goals and each body is unique. Every person enjoys different activities throughout the day but let’s be real, in today’s modern world we all deal with stress on regular basis.

When we are under stress our body releases a hormone called cortisol. That is why cortisol is known as "The Stress Hormone". Even though cortisol offers benefits like quick bursts of energy, less sensitivity to pain and memory improvement. People who live under constant stress are victims of the negative effects of cortisol. Some of them are decreased bone density and muscle mass, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances, suppressed thyroid function, etc. All these changes subsequently could translate into obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis.

There are different ways to keep Cortisol levels under control, one of them being exercise. To be precise, aerobic exercises. Walking or running are the easier and more natural choices for us to work on. Think about it, our bodies are designed to walk/run and modern life has seemed to limit our natural ways. In the early years, people would walk and run every day looking for food and water but in modern society, if we walk looking for food it is often towards the vending machine to grab that quick typically unhealthy snack. Heck, we don’t even walk half the time but use our cars to pick up food through the drive through! Body movement has become very limited, we do not burn as many calories as we consume anymore. So really, we are the root of the problem.

Why don’t we go back to our roots and start walking more or running again? With the appropriate shoes, this is an activity suitable for most among us. I started running in November 2007 and guess what? I used to HATE running! I thought it was boring but after doing a 5K race I realized how much fun it was. How great it was to join hundreds of people with a common goal. My competitive side was awakened again after several years of no competition, and when I say competition, I talk about competing with myself. Simply challenging myself, setting a goal and working towards it. From that point I was hooked, I signed up for my first half marathon then went for the full. The training was a challenge at times, but I always kept my ultimate goal in mind, and I had a purpose. As I ran my self awareness improved. It was evident I was learning how to be present to my body, my breathing, my thoughts and my surroundings. One of the first things I noticed is how happy I felt after running. That feeling of accomplishment, knowing I did something great for my health and I took an extra step towards a goal. I rarely get headaches, but whenever I get really stressed, a headache is almost imminent. Now, anytime I feel stressed I know what the best thing to do is: Run! It is amazing how even with a short 15 minute run stress goes down dramatically. And yes, I can tell you that even my headache has gone away!

How to start a cardio-respiratory exercise routine?
Set a goal! Maybe you can walk a 5K or maybe you want to run for a mile non-stop. Maybe run your first marathon. It doesn’t matter. Set a goal and work towards it. There are different factors important to consider when performing cardio-respiratory exercises:

Type of exercise: Pick your favorite one (I recommend starting with an incline walk on the treadmill).

Frequency: How many times per week? Depending on your schedule and commitment, it varies (I recommend cardio exercises at least 2 or 3 times per week).

Duration: For how long should I go? Start with at least 20 minutes, progression would consider up to 1 hour (or higher for people preparing for a long distance race).

Intensity: At what heart rate? (I recommend going with the “feeling method”). A proper cardio-respiratory exercise session should be done working at different heart rates, especially when the goal is to burn fat. So, start with a 5 minute warm-up (zone 1), then accelerate your pace or increase the resistance and go into zone 2 (feels like you are working, but you could “be there all day”), later, increase the intensity into zone 3 (now it’s getting harder, but you could sustain that pace for a good amount of time). Slow down into zone 2 again and to end go into a cool-down (zone1), for 5 more minutes.

For this basic workout, we consider a total of 25 minutes (5 minutes for each zone). Remember, cardio-respiratory exercises are great but it is highly recommended to combine them with resistance training (weights, or any other kind of resistance) for a good balance and to maintain/promote overall health. Your exercise program combined with proper nutrition will help you be healthy and achieve your goals.

Written by Fernando Rosete
Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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