Improved circulation. Blood sugar control. Calorie burn. Increased sexual health. A reduced chance of osteoporosis, arthritis, type-2 diabetes, and other ailments. Lengthened life span. If this list of cardio benefits doesn't have you convinced yet, maybe decreasing your daily reliance on six cups of coffee will.
Regular cardio has a buffet of proven physiological and mental perks. It doesn't just increase your energy, it does so resoundingly and in a whole spectrum of different ways.
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Heart and Lung Power
Cardiovascular exercise is all about getting the body moving, and as your body moves, your heart pumps more blood. When that happens, your heart delivers more oxygen to your muscles. As your aerobic fitness increases, your body becomes more adept at moving oxygen into the blood, which makes your muscles more efficient — and more efficiency equals less energy usage.
Exercise physiologist Pete McCall of the American Council on Exercise explains that when a sedentary individual starts a workout routine, the activity enhances blood flow and increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. In the big picture, this process improves the body's ability to produce more energy in the form of a chemical called adenosine triphosphate.
With consistent cardiovascular exercise, those muscles adapt to increased physical workloads until, eventually, day-to-day activities put less demand on the lungs and require less energy to perform.
As your heart's pumping at heightened levels during your cardio workout, your body is also burning through calories. Calorie burn leads to weight loss, and weight loss leads to more energy in the long run. As the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences points out, there's a direct correlation between obesity, sleepiness and fatigue.
Cardio also helps you fall asleep faster and get more REM sleep, which can lead to more energized days.
Your heart isn't the only thing your body pumps during cardio — strenuous cardiovascular exercise causes your body to pump out the body chemicals known as endorphins. If you've ever heard of the euphoric "runner's high," that feeling is endorphins at work. The energy outlasts your run, too, bolstering energy levels throughout the day.
If you find yourself with low energy due to depression, low-self esteem or just a bad mood, cardio is an effective method for bringing you back up, as it also increases the production of the mood-boosting hormones serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
The increased blood flow that cardio provides isn't just good for your body, it's good for your brain, too. Better circulation means better memory, improved brain function and increased alertness.
If you're wondering what that has to do with energy levels, look no further than a 2016 study in the journal Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, which finds that chronic mental stress systematically diverts and disperses the body's energy stores.
To benefit from the energy boost that cardio provides, consistency is key. Cleveland Clinic recommends regular 30-minute cardio workouts for five or more days weekly.
- Cleveland Clinic: From Head to Toe: The Benefits of a Cardio Workout
- Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Obesity-Related Sleepiness and Fatigue: The Role of the Stress System and Cytokines
- NPR: How Revving Up Your Heart Rate, Even a Bit, Pays Off
- American Council on Exercise: Exercise As a Cure for Fatigue and To Boost Energy Levels
- “Morning Cardio Workouts”; June E. Kahn; 2006
- Weight-Control Information Network: Mind and Body Exercise