10 Often-Overlooked Benefits of Cardiovascular Training

Cardio workouts do more than just advance your health goals—they can enhance your social and work life, too.

Running. Cycling. Swimming. Rowing. Dancing. Walking. Stair climbing. Playing basketball. Workout circuits. Interval training. These are all popular modes of cardiovascular training. Along with resistance training to develop muscular strength and flexibility training to improve mobility, cardiovascular exercise is one of the key components of a well-rounded physical training program.

When muscles perform physical work, they require oxygen to help produce the energy that fuels contractions; that oxygen is delivered via the cardiovascular system (your heart, lungs and blood vessels). Cardiovascular exercise is any activity that elevates your heart rate to pump more oxygenated blood to your working muscles. There are many well-established benefits of cardiovascular training, such as reducing the risk of developing heart disease, lowering cholesterol, reducing weight and promoting good health.

But are these the only reasons that you should make cardio training a regular part of your workout program? If you’re young, you might think reducing the risk of heart disease isn’t relevant. (Even though it is, this isn’t the place to make that argument.) So here are 10 not-so-well-known benefits of cardiovascular training to motivate you to add regular cardiovascular training to your fitness routine or to increase the amount you’re currently doing.

1. Expand your social network

If the thought of going to the gym to work out alone on a cardio machine doesn’t get you that excited, consider taking a cardio-based group fitness class. Indoor cycling, Zumba, interval training and dance classes are led by an instructor who coaches you through the workout, and it’s a great way to have fun by working out with other people. An additional benefit is the opportunity to expand your real-life social network by getting to know other people in the class; my wife used to be my cycling instructor, so I’m speaking from experience.

2. Advance your career goals

Networking at the gym isn’t just for social relationships. If you don’t go for any other reason, working out regularly at a club frequented by your colleagues or at the company’s fitness center might enhance your career opportunities. Going out for a run in the morning won’t lead to the executive suite in the afternoon, but it is well-known that many leaders make time in their schedule for physical training because it helps them to be more productive.

If you know when and where the senior leadership in your organization works out, hitting the gym for your cardio workouts at the same time gives you the chance to get to know each other outside of the office. With a better sense of one another as people, you might find new opportunities to work together.

3. Train your body, train your mind

If you’re one of the thousands of people who enjoy downloading and listening to podcasts, then make your training time more productive by listening to your favorite on-demand audio content. Listening to your favorite show while going for a walk or run or on your favorite machine at a health club is a great opportunity to do two things at once.

4. Look and feel younger

OK, time for some of the health-promoting benefits of cardio. This one is often overlooked and rarely mentioned by most doctors. Regular, steady-state cardio that focuses on your aerobic metabolism (training at an intensity where you are able to talk) can enhance mitochondrial density in your muscle cells.

Mitochondria are cell organs that help convert oxygen to energy; adding more to your cells can improve cellular function and can be an important component of slowing down the normal biological aging process. The takeaway? Adding a little bit of regular cardio training to your life can not only help you feel younger, but look younger as well.

5. Effectively deal with stress

Cardio training can help your body learn how to deal with stress more effectively. Movement elevates levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, hormones that are produced during time of stress because they help produce energy. (These are part of your body’s natural “fight or flight” response, and function to provide immediate energy to handle tough situations.) If you don’t work out on a regular basis, you’re more likely to feel jumpy and jittery when faced with a stressful situation. Regular physical activity can give your body the ability to know how to handle and deal with these hormones when they are released into your system.

6. Be prepared for anything—zombies, snowstorms and the like

In addition to giving you the ability to deal with stress more effectively, regular cardio training can help you improve your physical fitness to be able to handle a physical emergency. No, I’m not talking about a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion, although working out would increase your chances of survival in the unlikely event that either one occurs.

Major snowstorms, electrical outages, floods and other unforeseen events can make roads impassible and bring transit to a standstill. Under those circumstances, Uber isn’t an option, and you might need to be able to walk (or run) home or to safety. (And whether you elude the undead or survive a disaster, see reasons 4 and 5 above: Running can help make you more attractive to other survivors, which is important because someone is going to have to start re-populating the planet.)

7. Prevent cognitive decline

Smart is sexy! Cardiovascular training can enhance your cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s—and for those reasons alone, it should be a regular part of your life.

Cardio training enhances brain function in two ways: 1) increasing oxygen flow to the brain; and 2) boosting production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotransmitter responsible for promoting growth of new brain cells. Regular physical activity that elevates your heart rate is an important component of training your mental muscle.

8. Lose weight, increase stamina

Increasing your cardio workouts can have a direct impact on your love life in a couple of ways. Shedding a few unwanted pounds might make you look and feel better (and that’s attractive to potential mates). And improving your cardiovascular endurance can help elevate your stamina during a variety of activities ranging, from those you do in the gym to the ones you enjoy in the privacy of your own home.

9. Find your swole mate

If you’re dating someone who has a membership to the same gym as you, then you can kill two birds with one stone by planning dates that involve working out at the gym. Taking a class, using cardio machines right next to each other or doing the same weightlifting routine is one way to share common interests that could make for a fun, active date. The best part is that after you’re done with the workout, you can head out for a bite together (and practice proper nutrition that supports optimal recovery, of course).

10. Boost your self-confidence

Besides the appearance-enhancing benefits of physical training, one final, important benefit is that regular cardio training can boost your confidence, which is often the most attractive personality trait in a potential mate. Setting and achieving fitness-related goals like working out a certain number of days per week, losing a certain amount of weight or running a specific distance can help improve your self-confidence, because you know that you have the ability to set a goal and achieve it!

There is no guarantee that regular cardiovascular training can provide all of these benefits, but there is one thing that is well known: If cardio is not a regular part of your workout program, then you are certainly limiting the chances of experiencing many of these life-enhancing benefits.

Photo credit: Andrew Tanglao, Unsplash