Principle 5 – Cardiovascular Exercise

December 13, 2020

Principle 5 is near and dear to my heart.

My whole life, cardiovascular fitness has been something that set me apart.

Growing up, I played practically every major N. American sport, most of them at a reasonably high level.

As I aged, I focused more on school, learning, work and family and gave up on my cardiovascular fitness.

Two of my greatest achievements in life that have had significant health impacts are: Ironman Canada 2010 and my 2017 / 2018 running streak.

As with the principles before it, there are many benefits to cardiovascular exercise and I will focus on certain key benefits I have seen across multiple articles and experienced in my own life:

  1. Aids sleep
  2. Regulates weight
  3. Improved brain power
  4. Improved cardiovascular health

Aids sleep

If you are challenged falling asleep at night, add cardiovascular exercise to your routine.

This study of individuals with chronic sleep issues concluded aerobic physical activity with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood and quality of life in older adults with chronic insomnia.

Anecdotally, whenever I engage in strenuous cardiovascular exercise, I have a much better sleep that evening. I find that the impact of cardio has a much stronger impact on my sleep than does weight training does.

The only caveat is that I would avoid strenuous cardio exercise, such as HIIT, within two hours of bed time.

Regulates weight

Diet aside, nothing has a greater impact on weight regulation than running.

It simply cannot be beat for weight loss and weight regulation. Full stop.

In this study, researchers assessed whether aerobic exercise, without energy restriction, would have an impact on weight loss in sedentary overweight and obese men and women.

Participants were asked to exercise at either 400 kcal/session, 600 kcal/session or to not exercise at all.

The results showed significant weight loss, between 4.3% and 5.7% of the starting bodyweight for men and women.

Improved Brain Power

Research has shown that we start to lose brain tissue as we age.

Cardiovascular exercise appears to be able to reduce the rate of deterioration.

This is consistent with the findings uncovered in What Makes Olga Run, a fascinating story of a 93 year old track star.

Separately, there are other benefits that cardiovascular fitness can have on your brain. Specifically, when you run you can listen to audio books or podcasts, which can have a very positive impact on your learning.

While I was on my run-streak, I listened to over 100 Tim Ferriss podcasts and multiple audio books.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Given it is cardiovascular exercise, none of us should be surprised that it improves our cardiovascular health.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. Further recommendations include:

  • Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
  • Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
  • Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
  • Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.

The big wins, in addition to cardiovascular health, that can come from adopting these behaviors include:

  • Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer, and some complications of pregnancy (BOOM – What a win)
  • Better sleep, including improvements in insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea (noted above)
  • Improved cognition, including memory, attention and processing speed (noted above)
  • Less weight gain, obesity and related chronic health conditions (noted above)
  • Better bone health and balance, with less risk of injury from falls*
  • Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety*

* These two benefits, along with many of the others, are consistent with strength training benefits discussed in Principle 4.

For these reasons, I recommend that you run dailyish and I intend to keep running daily for as long as I am able to.

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