You want to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and lose weight. You have heard that cardio is the way to go.
So, you walk, run, dance, swim, do HIIT workouts, and continually strive to do more.
When you feel tired and sore you are told this means it's working. When it feels easier, you are told you have to the level because your body ‘got used to it’ and you are not getting benefits. When the scale doesn't move, or even goes up, you may be told you are gaining muscle.
If you are limited by pain, all this more cardio is better messaging leaves you feeling hopeless! Your body is keeping you from doing enough exercise to be healthy and lose weight.
Know the misinformation about cardio
This misinformation about cardiovascular execise is based on an assumption about calorie burning I explain in this video.
Here are a few more facts about the more cardio is better messages in the media
It’s easier to estimate the calories burned during cardiovascular exercise, so it can seem like you burn more calories with cardio as you see those numbers rack up on your device or a piece of cardio equipment. Those numbers, however, are estimates and do not take into account the newer research on metabolism and calorie burning.
Cardio is not likely to increase muscle mass, especially not to the level you will see on the scale. If the scale goes up or doesn't budge, it's often inflammation from muscle soreness and fatigue, the signs you are overdoing cardio. Soreness and exercising to exhaustion are not helpful in any way for weight loss. Inflammation is the root cause of most diseases. Exercise that lowers inflammation, not raises it, benefits your health and thus gets you to your healthy weight.
Cardiovascular exercise has a wide range of benefits for your health at all intensities. High-intensity training has gained popularity and is often thought of as superior to light to moderate intensity. Consider that there are far more studies showing the benefits of moderate intensity than high intensity. Light to moderate intensity cardio will protect you from heart disease and improve longevity.
High intensity is uncomfortable. When you are short of breath, your brain gets the signal there is a problem. That means for many people, especially at the start of exercise, high intensity will put you in a stress state rather than shift cells to the well state. This is especially unhelpful for people with autoimmune illnesses like PCOS and fibromyalgia.
That discomfort of high-intensity and long-duration cardio has your body telling your brain to avoid this type of exercise. That means getting started and staying motivated will always be a challenge and you will need some external motivator like a trainer, app, or fitness challenge to keep you doing it.
Combining cardio and light weights will not boost metabolism either. To get the most from lifting weights, you need to challenge the muscles to a pain-free fatigue level. Cardio and strength are improved in two different movement types for your body. Combining them reduces the benefits of weight loss for each. Separate your cardio and strength and do high-quality strength exercises to get the most metabolism benefits (link article)
What is the best way to exercise for health and weight loss?
The best exercise for health and weight loss is a balance of mobility, strength, and stamina done mindfully in a way that aligns with movement science principles.
Mobility is stretching and balance that allows you to move with less stiffness and worry about injury. When mobility exercises are done mindfully and based on movement science, you feel better, release stress, and lower inflammation. You feel like moving more. This shifts your physiology from the stress state to the well state. That well state tells your body to lower cortisol which signals it’s time to release excess weight.
Strength exercises done well activate the muscle fibers that have hibernated disuse. Even if you do use your strength in certain situations at work or home, the majority of your muscle fibers are likely not used enough to prevent loss of strength and metabolism in our industrialized society. Quality strength exercises done mindfully reconnect nerves and muscle fibers, waking them up so they add to your metabolism. This is why strength exercises help with weight loss. But if you are doing toning-type strength exercise, using light weights and high reps or extra cardio to avoid getting bulky muscles, you don't activate many muscle fibers and thus do not get the metabolism benefit. This is why you need quality strength rather than more cardio to improve metabolism.
Stamina, or lasting energy, is the benefit you get from quality cardiovascular exercise. When cardio means high intensity, it can add to stress and raise cortisol levels. When you feel uncomfortably out of breath and exhausted from exercise, your body tells your brain there is a threat, and you stay in a stress state. If cardio is stress-producing, it will not help with lasting weight loss. It can raise inflammation and that tells your body it is not time to release extra fuels. Mindful stamina is moving continuously in a pain-free range, at a level that feels energizing for your whole person. This way, you get more energy, reduce stress, and feel and function better even before you lose weight.
Is more cardio better? Here is the way to exercise for weight loss and health
Before you invest more time in cardiovascular exercise, check to be sure you are:
Doing a balance of exercise for strength, stamina, and mobility. These are the skills your body needs to move with less strain and more ease in daily life.
Done mindfully, each type shifts your physiology out of the stress state so chronic stress does not prevent healthy weight loss.
Done with movement science, each type allows you to feel and function better at your current weight so you can enjoy more activities each step of the way to a sustainable healthy weight.
Stay aware of the misinformed messages to do more cardio for faster weight loss and better health. Replace them with the evidence-based sanity of doing a balance of mindful mobility, strength, and stamina exercises and enjoy moving with greater ease, calm, and confidence each day on the way to your healthiest weight.