Common question: What’s the best exercise for me to lose weight?
The answer is cardiovascular fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is one of the three angles of our fitness trilogy triangle: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. “Cardio” refers to the blood and oxygen both coming to and leaving from the heart muscle and the lungs; “vascular” refers to the arteries and veins through which the blood flows to get from the heart to the muscles and back. Because blood gets “tired” and needs “refreshing”, the blood travels through the lungs for this exchange–kind of going through a service station. The harder you work and start puffing air, the more you work the heart and lungs for this exchange to occur, and the more you nourish the brain and body with good oxygen. Other benefits of cardio exercise include increasing the strength and efficiency of the heart as a “pump”, so it has to beat fewer times per minute as it pushes more blood and oxygen throughout your body. This means that, over time, a person who becomes fit will have a lower heart rate than before because the heart becomes extremely efficient.
Try this: take your heart rate now for one full minute if you’ve been resting and reading this. If you have not been resting, sit for 20 minutes and then take your pulse by using your fingers just to the side of your Adam’s apple (not your thumb, though, because it has its own pulse which you’ll feel) until you feel the pulse alongside of your neck. To find your pulse easily, look up gently to stretch the skin in your neck, and then feel around for the pulse. Count it for 60 seconds and write it down or store it in a note in your cell phone.
Take your pulse again every two weeks and see whether you notice any difference. Normal pulses vary between 70-80 beats per minute in non-exercisers, but people with healthy, efficient hearts can have really low pulse rates! If you make small lifestyle changes, including exercise, you may notice that your resting heart pulse comes down, which is a great sign that your heart is becoming more efficient at pumping more blood with each contraction and having to beat less.
What’s the best cardiovascular exercise? All respected researchers agree that the best is the one you are willing to do for the most amount of time, with the most amount of regularity, with the most enjoyment! The 50 calories from walking or stepping or dancing or swimming or gardening are the same calories used and burned, but the muscles used may be different. If your purpose is to lose fat, then find cardiovascular exercises that work the muscle groups in the parts of the body that you want to trim down.
We have to make the heart work harder by doing cardiovascular training because it uses fat as a fuel during its work. Aerobic exercise–any intense work that makes us breathe heavily–increases the amount of oxygen available to the body, and on a cellular level this translates to an increase in fat burning metabolism!
Be patient. Sometimes it seems like in places where we want to lose the fat we’ve gained, it comes off last. At the very least, try walking at a moderate pace for 10 minutes for your cardiovascular exercise. If knee health is an issue, try cycling in one of the recumbent (reclining) bicycles that are so popular in most gyms.
Every few weeks, think about changing the type of cardiovascular exercise you’ve chosen, just to “wake up” your muscles and teach them to react in new ways. This means creating new neuromuscular pathways, which keeps your muscles “on their toes”! You can always return to your favorite cardiovascular exercise after you try varying something once or twice. The body does need change periodically. Just be sure that your cardiovascular choices are safe for you.
Guest post by Lawrence Biscontini, Mindful Movement Specialist, fitness expert, and Senior VIP Consultant for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Power Music®.