A cardio workout is basically anything that increases our heart-rate. Whether it’s a spin class, running on a treadmill, hiking outdoors or interval training, generally, cardio strengthens our heart. After all, our heart is technically a muscle and it needs to be worked just like any other muscle in our body to stay healthy. When our hearts and cardiovascular systems get stronger, more oxygen is delivered to our cells which supports muscle recovery, boosts our metabolism and allows our body to function more efficiently. According to the Centre For Disease Control, only 1 in 3 American adults get enough physical activity, but just because you’re an avid cardio junkie doesn’t mean you’re exercising optimally!
Are You OD-ing on Cardio?
The idea that we need to be going hard with cardio workouts and limiting our calories is outdated and old school! Excessive cardio and limiting your calorie intake can tax your adrenals and cause a shift in cortisol levels, which signals your body to enter “fat conservation mode”. We’re not saying your workouts shouldn’t include cardio – They definitely should! But there are factors we need to be mindful of to ensure we’re getting the most of it and reaping the benefits.
Here’s what you can do to optimize your workouts and support your fitness goals:
1. Practice active recovery
In order to repair micro-tears, restore glycogen fuel stores, and ensure our muscles are recovering properly, it’s essential for our body to rest. If we don’t, our muscles can actually weaken from being tight and overused. This makes us more susceptible to injuries and depleted of energy when it’s time for our next workout. With that being said, a rest day doesn’t have to mean being a couch potato – It can still include moving our body, but we can engage in lower intensity physical activities such as walking, gentle Pilates, yoga, stretching or foam rolling – This is what we call active recovery!
2. Look for other mood-boosting activities
In addition to physical benefits, there are many mental benefits attached to exercise, such as reduced stress, increased memory and concentration and changes in our mood. When we exercise, our brain’s pleasure circuit is activated – Cue, endorphins, dopamine, and other “happy” neurotransmitters! If you’re anxious at the thought of taking a rest day for this reason, there are other mood-boosting activities you can try. Studies show that even just going for a walk gets our blood flowing, our muscles engaged and also triggers the release of dopamine. Other things like meditation and deep breathing exercises are scientifically proven to effectively reduce stress, clear our mind, build positivity and balance cortisol levels.
3. Get into a “gain” mindset
Let’s be honest, cardio culture is often built around tapping into our body insecurities to get us to lose more, get “skinnier” and sweat ourselves away. What if instead of focusing on losing, we focused on gaining? If cardio is something you truly enjoy doing, try switching your mindset away from that negative “less-than” self-talk to empowering reasons like building endurance, releasing endorphins and fostering mobility.
4. Get enough sleep
The quality of your sleep is important to supporting digestion, managing stress and balancing our hormones. It’s also essential when it comes to fitness and muscle recovery – When we sleep, growth hormone is released, our brain recharges, and it’s the time when our muscles recover, repair and rebuild. Achieving a high quality of sleep can also increase our energy levels and prevent fatigue, so you’ll feel more motivated and revitalized for your next sweat session!
5. Schedule your workouts appropriately
Did you know that regular exercise can also promote a deeper, more restorative sleep? The problem is, we have to be careful of the timing of our exercise. If we exercise too close to bedtime (especially if it’s a high-intensity workout like cardio), it will get our adrenaline pumping, which can actually keep us awake and interfere with our sleep. While we always promote moving your body on a daily basis, try to exercise earlier in the day to prevent adrenaline and cortisol from affecting you at night and save the lighter exercises, like yoga and stretching, for the evening.
6. Choose the right exercise for your cycle phase
Ladies, listen up! Did you know that you can have more successful workouts if you plan them according to your cycle? The type of exercise you should be doing when you’re ovulating is different to what you should be doing in the days before your period. Studies show that days 7-14 of our cycle are when we have the most energy, so this is when we should engage in more intense workouts. Days 1-7 (menstruation), we’re better off practicing low intensity movements and sneaking in some active rest days.
7. Acupuncture Treatments
Many athletes and active individuals rely on acupuncture to support the function of their body. Not only does it minimize muscle and joint pain, but it also reduces inflammation, improves circulation, enhances energy, builds endurance and shifts us from our sympathetic state into a parasympathetic state. The former is the part of the nervous system responsible for our “fight or flight” functions, whereas the latter is our body’s “rest, digest and heal” mode. Acupuncture can also allow you to have a deeper, higher quality of sleep, which as we mentioned, can help you out in the long-run when it comes to your fitness regime.
Did we mention we have killer Pilates classes and private sessions at TMB that combine the best cardio, three dimensional toning and strengthening movements? Check out what they’re all about!
About The Movement Boutique in Toronto – Pilates, Chiropractic, Functional Medicine
Located on Yonge Street in Toronto, The Movement Boutique serves the areas of Summerhill, Rosedale and Yorkdale with Pilates classes and much more. Our philosophy is centred on a holistic, multimodal approach to health, grounded in the latest therapeutic techniques and clinical research. Our approach: Optimal health cannot be attained through a single therapeutic lens; injuries are often the result of a constellation of lifestyle issues, including dysfunctional movement patterns, trauma, nutritional deficiencies or destructive habits of mind.