Unless you’re a hamster, you probably dread your time at the gym logging hours upon hours of treadmill, bike or elliptical time on the good old “highway to nowhere”! So, why do we do this?
While we know that cardio exercise is good for heart & lung health (it lowers blood pressure, makes the heart pump more effectively, improves cholesterol by raising HDL levels and lowering LDL levels etc…) there is a fine line between gaining cardiovascular fitness and catabolizing hard earned muscle – leading to a slower metabolism!
But wait?!?!? We’ve always been told that cardio is the key to fat loss – isn’t it? Quite simply put – NO, it’s not. While it is one of the tools we have in our fat-loss tool box it is pretty much on the bottom of the list in my opinion. Fat loss is primarily a function of diet, and adding muscle to one’s frame is how to keep the metabolism running with fire….but alas, that is a topic for another article!
So, why is it important?
As we age, we must train all aspects of fitness to ensure longevity and heath when we reach our golden years. When we’re young we probably get all the cardio we need dancing at clubs and chasing after boys (we won’t discuss other “cardio” you can do with boys here) but when you get to be about in your mid 20’s you should start to put in a concerted effort to get into the habit of a proper weight, flexibility and cardio regime.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends that adults get 150 minutes of “aerobic” training per week (moderate or vigorous). This amounts to 2.5 hours and while this would be on the low side of total training hours per week if we included weight training (which DOES get the heart pumping by the way), I’d say it’s on the high side for cardio only, especially if we’re talking high intensity!!
The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise per day which amounts to 3.5 hours – but they don’t specify what type at all. This can get confusing for those of us looking for general health.
Everybody can agree that getting physical activity on most days of the week is what we need to aim for but what nobody seems to touch on here is that your total exercise time can be split up between resistance training & cardio training while tossing in some flexibility training as well. Exactly how much depends on your goals…if you were training for a marathon obviously you would be cardio heavy – if you were training for a physique show you would be resistance heavy but if you’re training for life in general, what’s a girl to do?
Well, here is my “official” recommendation, based on years of trial and error on myself (love being my own gym guinea pig) and doing more reading on the subject than any human should ever consider doing!
If you are doing high-intensity cardio (sprints, tabatas etc…) I’d aim for 2-10, 20 or 30 minute sessions (depending on fitness level) per week paired with your weight training sessions. Anything more than this would start to eat-in to your hard earned muscle, cause overtraining and go against anything you want to accomplish in your “get-fit” goals.
If you are doing steady-state cardio (treadmill, elliptical, bike etc…) you can do a bit more. I’d aim for 3-30 minute sessions per week of course paired with your weight training sessions. I find that half an hour fits in nicely if you’re doing your cardio after a weight session and also coincides with the guidelines of most health organizations. Of course if you’re really enjoying yourself here you can push your session to 45 minutes but any longer and you will teeter on muscle wasting territory.
Well, there you have it! Cardio training is an important part of a well-rounded fitness plan, but not the “be-all & end all” that we have come to believe since Jane Fonda was jumping around in spandex asking us for “one more, two more”. Good in the right amounts….but beware of getting too much of a good thing!
Now, go put on your spandex and meet me in the Aerobics room J