The other benefits of cardio exercise

Hopefully you have all had a chance to visit our new Recreation — or Rec — Center by now, and have found the time in your busy schedules for the five minutes it takes to register with the new HandKey system. If so, then you have already witnessed the abundance of cardiovascular exercise opportunities now available to you on campus.

The amount of treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical machines in the Rec Center is staggering, not to mention that you now have the chance to participate in spin classes, utilize the lap pool or play racquetball. And while we live in an area already ripe with outdoor, aerobic opportunities, only at the Rec Center can you get your cardio on an elliptical machine while watching iCarly.

In its 2008 publication Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. federal government defines aerobic (i.e., cardio) activity as physical activity where the body’s large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time, causing a person’s heart to beat faster than usual.

To many, their view of the positive effects of cardio exercise is limited to weight loss or maintenance. This is true; cardio exercise burns energy (i.e., calories). However, without getting all complicated and talking about the different benefits brought about by timing, duration and intensity, just doing cardio exercise has a multitude of other positive effects on your body.

In an attempt to help pursuade everyone to utilize the Rec Center, even if exercise for the purpose of vanity is not your thing, the following are some of the other benefits your body receives from doing cardio exercise.

Elevate your attitude: During and after cardio exercise, your brain receives additional mood-enhancing chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

In a 2005 study published in “Psychological Reports,” two groups of sedentary adults, classified as clinically depressed, were observed. One group remained sedentary, while the other was given a moderate cardio exercise program to complete three times a week, at a duration of 20 to 30 minutes. By week 10 of the study, 62 percent of those participants in the exercise group had escaped their depression diagnosis, as opposed to only 29 percent of those who remained sedentary.

Defeat your stress: Feeling stressed? Then it’s time to get high — runner’s high, that is. Cardio activity saturates your brain in additional endorphins, triggering what is referred to as a runner’s high, leaving you feeling happier, mellower and re-energized.

In another 2005 study, scientists tried to determine just how much cardio exercise inhibits stress and its physical impact. The report, published in Biological Psychology, found that “doses” of at least 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise had a positive impact on study participant’s blood pressure when faced with a psychosocial stressor.

Boost your immune system: As if cardio exercise could not get any more beneficial, and release more positive chemicals into your brain, it is now known that cardio raises your level of immunoglobulins, which are proteins that bolster your immune system.

In a January 2010 article, the Wall Street Journal highlighted the effect cardio exercise has on your immune system. The article discusses Dr. David Nieman — director of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Lab — and his studies that showed that “people who walked briskly for 45 minutes, five days a week over 12 to 15 weeks had fewer and less severe upper respiratory tract infections, such as colds and flu.” The number of sick days the study participants took from work was reduced by 25 to 50 percent when compared to the study’s sedentary control subjects.

Stave off future injuries: The positive impact aerobic exercise has on one’s cardiovascular system is well documented. Simply put: cardio activity and training improves the body’s ability to utilize oxygen to derive energy for work. However, regular cardio exercise has been shown to reduce or lessen future injuries by promoting greater joint flexibility and muscular strengthening.

In a May 2011 article, the New York Times describes the positive impact cardio activity, and exercise in general, has on muscles and bones. In particular, the Times article discusses the effect cardio exercise can have on preventing or reducing lower back pain. The article describes how “low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming, bicycling and walking, can strengthen muscles in the abdomen and back without over-straining the back.” A strong abdomen and back are crucial in preventing or reducing lower back pain.

With all of these additional benefits to cardio exercise, you are hopefully now feeling inspired to head over to the Rec Center to work on your fitness. Because as your mom, dad, grandma, professors and doctors would say, the habits you form now will stay with you for the rest of your life. Why not make them healthy ones?!