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Cardiovascular exercise is any type of repetitive motion involving large muscles that increases your heart and breathing rate. Blood flow is directed to the muscles doing the work (like your legs) and away from the ones not doing work (like your arms or small muscles inside your digestive tract).
Over time, consistent cardio causes your resting heart rate to drop because your left ventricle adapts to the larger blood volume and it gets bigger. With a larger and stronger muscle, more blood is pumped per beat, even at rest, so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. This is what makes cardio exercise so good for your heart.
On the flip side, too much of anything is rarely good.
If you do too much cardio, you can become overtrained. Overtraining can create more stress than your body can handle – leading to sickness, injury, increased stress hormones and weight gain. In essence, too much cardio does the opposite of what you are probably doing it for to begin with: to become more fit, reduce stress and lose weight.
Most Americans are not in danger of that, though. Few of us get the recommended amount of exercise per week, which is only 150 minutes. We can do better.
Remember, that 150 minutes can be broken down into 10-minute chunks of time which makes it manageable for even the busiest people. It’s so worth it. People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Physical activity can also help with weight control, and may improve academic achievement in students.
So what are you waiting for? Lace up those sneakers and go for a walk.
Originally published 5/1/2017; Revised 2021
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