5 ways cardio exercise is good for your health

Recent fitness trends have placed a greater focus on resistance training, but that's no reason to ignore the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Nuffield Health's Head of Fitness, Chris Foster, provides the reasons cardio can improve your health.

Whether you take fitness classes or regularly run, cycle, swim, dance or box, your cardiovascular exercise goes a long way to improving your health. Here are a few ways it does:

1. Fighting the ‘bad’ cholesterol

Raised cholesterol is a known risk factor for coronary heart disease, this is why we are bombarded with messages to keep our cholesterol levels in check. Cardio exercise tells the body to produce more high density lipoproteins (HDL) - the "good" cholesterol - and in turn this helps to control the levels of circulating low density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglycerides - the bad guys.

2. Reducing blood pressure

High blood pressure is a problem because it strains your arteries, leaving you at risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. The good news is that aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce blood pressure. During exercise, your systolic blood pressure (the level of pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating) will increase, and your diastolic pressure (the level of pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats) should stay at around the same level. Over time however, the cumulative effects of aerobic exercise are to reduce both systolic and diastolic pressures, which could literally prove to be a life-saver.

3. Keeping trim

Evidence supports the use of aerobic exercise to promote greater total body mass and fat mass reductions over resistance training. Although resistance training supports greater gains in lean (muscle) mass which is a very important factor in body composition and body shape as well as health, moderate-intensity cardio exercise can be completed for longer periods of time and on a more regular basis than higher intensity workouts and so should form part of any solid approach to weight loss.

4. Staying happy

As well as having positive effects on your physiology, aerobic exercise has also been linked to numerous psychological health benefits too. Individuals who are more active have been shown, in comparison to sedentary individuals, to perform better on cognitive tests, exhibit reduced cardiovascular responses to stress and report fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. These are all conditions that can lead people to take on bad habits, such as smoking and eating badly, which can be very harmful to your heart and general health.

5. Avoiding ‘smokadiabesity’

Physical inactivity has been termed the biggest public health concern of the 21st Century, not least by Professor Steven Blair, who coined the term "smokadiabesity", when highlighting that low fitness kills more people than smoking, diabetes and obesity combined. So it's worth thinking twice before skipping a day's physical activity.

Last updated Thursday 3 September 2020

First published on Wednesday 16 November 2016