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In Defense of Cardio: It's Good For Your Brain

In Defense of Cardio: It's Good For Your Brain

I've seen a lot of cardio bashing recently. It reminds me of the Atkins Diet-inspired carb bashing that took place in the 90s. There are so many reasons aerobic training is good for your body, and to that list we need to add that it also benefits your brain. Now what do you think about that?

According to Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, cardiovascular exercise dramatically increases blood flow to very specific parts of the brain that govern learning, problem solving, emotional control, and reaction time. Strength training, which offers many benefits on its own, doesn't help the brain in these ways.

During a recent interview on Fitness Rocks Medina explained that within four months there are measurable improvements with just a moderate amount of weekly exercise. However, skip working out for over a week and you will begin to lose all the wonderful brain function you gained by increasing the blood flow to your gray matter. Surely that fact will motivate you to get off the couch and out the door.

So if you have given up cardio like Michelle Pfeiffer, you might just want to rethink your plan.

Tell me in the comments section below why you do cardio – for your brain, your heart, your waist line, or your peace of mind.


Join The Conversation
AMP AMP 9 years
All of the above! Running helps clear my head, whittle my waist, let me know I'm building a strong heart and gives me peace of mind that I'm being healthy. I can no longer imagine my life without working out.
seraphimm seraphimm 9 years
I LOST 30 POUNDS BY JUMP ROPING. IN 1 MONTH. and don't say "that's not healthy", because I haven't gained ANY of that back, even after I stopped working out completely. and felt GREAT during that 1 month. (my diet plan wasn't that special either, I just ate more greens and less starchy/fatty food.) Jump roping is one of the MOST effective aerobic and FAT-BURNING exercises. Like running, jogging, walking, eliptical..etc I DIDN'T do any weight-lifting at all. WHY MUST YOU BASH CARDIO?
koralaz koralaz 9 years
I'm a graduate student studying the neuroscience of exercise and find it pretty comical to hear anyone bash cardio. Countless studies prove that aerobic exercise is immensely beneficial for brain-function. Everything from alleviating depression, staving off Alzheimer's Disease, mitigating the degenerative effects of Parkinson's, increasing trophic factors in the brain which aid in generating new neurons, are just a few of the outcomes of cardio that come to mind. To anyone familiar with the field, it's not even controversial to say that cardio exercise aids with learning and memory, as the new neurons generate in the cortex; a region associated with higher level cognitive functioning. Anaerobic, or strenth, training is beneficial as well, although to a lesser degree (but to be fair, there is only a fraction of the research done on anaerobic exercise as there is on aerobic.) To refute academia's unanimous consensus that cardiovascular exercise is extremely and multidimensionaly beneficial to the human brain and body, and to listen to an expert like Michelle Pfeiffer instead is just silly and, I feel safe to say; wrong. Different strokes for different folks, though, right?
Fitby40 Fitby40 9 years
I started cardio because I need to lose weight. I am also tempering it with weight lifting 3 times a week. I don't want to lose the weight but then be flabby. By-products of the cardio, though, are that I have been sleeping better since I started regular exercise. My skin feels soft and smooth after a hard workout. I guess it's similar to the sauna in that I'm sweating all the bad stuff out? I feel more hungry on the days I DON'T exercise than on the days that I do exercise. I think I have read before that exercise can actually be an appetite suppressant. Not to mention, there is the psychological aspect that I don't want to eat all the calories I just burned off. I have a reality check now in my brain, so that I'll equate what I'm about to eat with the amount of time on the cardio equipment it would take to burn it back off. "Oh... McDonald's small hamburger? That's 25 minutes on the elliptical at level 10..." I have not been craving sweets *knock on wood*. I feel that I think more clearly when I've had my exercise, just as the article suggested. As I sit here, it has been 3 hours since I last worked out, yet I still feel as if my skin is hot, like it's having a residual thermogenic effect or something. It's soothing in a way. Long-winded point: cardio is just PART of a complete diet and exercise routine.
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Cardio is key.
Ikandy Ikandy 9 years
i love cardio...i feel great afterwards and thats all i care about. i also incorporate weight training b4 i do cardio, i feel my muscles get a better workout that way...and my mood improves drastically too...
lolababy575 lolababy575 9 years
I'm really surprised that no one has really answered some of the questions about this (at least not from what I have read). Weight training is considered more effective because you can get your heart rate up, you tone your muscles (so you really see results) and once you build some muscle, over the course of the day you will naturally burn more calories (because the muscles will burn more calories just doing every day things than if you do not have as much muscle to burn those calories for you). That said, I enjoy my runs (and jogs on my days off). I'm thinking of training for a half marathon for fun, just to see if I can do it. It's nice to push yourself and it's a great way to get my day started and wake up. But I also rock climb for hours a few days a week and do yoga several times a week as well. And the comment about the "fat" people being the ones running... I think they should do a combination of things if they really want to try and loose some weight. But taking your body build (your actual structure) into consideration is really important. Everyone should be able to hit the track/treadmill for at least 20-30 minutes straight for the cardio, but some people are not built to run longer distances (10 miles, 20 miles). We had two track coaches at my school - one shorter, very thin, gracile and the other was pretty tall and muscular. The smaller one was a great endurance runner but when the taller one tried to keep the same training schedule he inevitably got injured and had to take time off. He just wasn't built for it. So maybe think about that too, when you're trying to add on some miles.
nolasiren nolasiren 9 years
The people that lift weights all the time look humungus to me because they usually add too much excess protein to their diets on top of lifting the weights. The men especially look fat. Seriously. Not to pick on them, but it's like those football players, I know a good bit of the bulk is muscle but they look like they need to around the block for a bit and burn some of those protein shakes off. All the guys I know, including an ex-boyfriend, that swear by the weights ARE bulky. The ex even said he needed to lose weight but "didn't like cardio". Runners on the other hand, have you been to a marathon or even a 5k? Oh wow! what big huge overweight people there! HA! And I agree with Fit it reminds me of the Carb Scare that Atkins started. Absolute bs. And running is not mindless. I call it free therapy. Doing both (moderate) strength training and cardio is probably the best thing. I just wouldn't go overboard with the weights unless you plan on trying out for a football team, joining the army or becoming a gladiator that is.
vilevanilla vilevanilla 9 years
Hey just do whatever makes you feel good. I know chanlenging my body in a natural way feels good and makes me stronger. I love running! Forget all the nonsense you hear and go with what you know is true for yourself.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I'm guessing the reason why you see fat people on the cardio machines is because it's a good way to burn extra fat. So if you HAVE a lot of extra fat, it would make sense to try to burn it off, right???? Cardio is really a good way to lose extra weight, but in order to get a full workout, you do need strength training too. I don't think either cardio or weights are all important, but you do need both to have a good exercise routine. I'd go nuts if I didn't do cardio most days of the week. And Electro--I'm with you on the whole "Yeah, I just play with my kids and eat what I want and I'm naturally thin" Hollywood thing. They are not all born with the skinny gene. I like it when they're honest at least. Madonna spends something like 5 hours a day working out...I'm sure cardio makes up a good chunk of it.
Luckyslushy Luckyslushy 9 years
Uhh.... what exactly are people saying is wrong with cardio?
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 9 years
Yah, I'm a firm believer in imaging in Hollywood and the music biz, and I just don't believe these girls when they say "I eat fish and veggies and I'm naturally thin, and don't ever work out." I just think it odd to believe that everyone is Hollywood magically has the skinny gene. Not likely. And we know from people like Julianne Moore that all of Hollywood is starving. Also, Madonna sometimes says that she only does some yoga, or that she just jogs...but all know that she definitely does some hardcore working out everyday. So it's all an image thing. I'm almost certain she does cardio and lots of it because she wouldn't have a job! I mean look at Nicole Kidman; excercising like CRAZY even though she is high risk for losing the baby. I still love hearing new fitness things though! Thanks fit.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
Since when are there only overweight people on the cardio machines? Both weight training and cardio burn calories and fat, and cardio, at least for me, gives me a sense of sweaty accomplishment (it may sound gross, but it's true) that clears my head and improves my mood..
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I think it's GREAT that ANYONE is putting themselves on the treadmills and stuff. At least they're trying. The kind of mentality that fat people are in the cardio room and skinny in the weight room is ridiculous. Most of the time NEW people (whether skinny or overweight) don't know how to use many of the complicated machines in the weightroom, so stick with what they know until they get more comfortable. That's exactly how I was when I first started. I do strength training 2 times a week, but I lost a LOT of weight just doing cardio in the beginning
missixty02 missixty02 9 years
Also, EAT CLEAN! I am posting a blog/food journal on what this means!
missixty02 missixty02 9 years
Cardio can be a double edged sword. Cardio is great for heart strength and what not but it doesn't really burn that many calories for weight loss. In my opinion, cardio is mindless and makes you hungry. You burn a few measly calories but then eat twice as many afterward—a result of weight gain occurs (and people wonder why they are doing all this cardio and GAIN weight)!! Look at the people in the aerobics classes and treadmills. Now take a peek in the weight room. What do you see? I see overweight people doing cardio and thin and toned people in the weight room. Strength training on the other hand is not mindless and can be a GREAT "cardio" workout if done correctly and intensely. This means lifting enough weight to the point of exhaustion after 10 reps. GIRLS—you will not get bulky!! I sweat A LOT when I lift weights and I get my heart rate up! Do calisthenics in between your weight sets. If this is done over an extended period of time, it builds muscle endurance. Some examples of this are lunges, push-ups, and mountain climbers. I am NOT bashing cardio, just the cardio Americans abuse and are literally running on a treadmill and going nowhere! As soon as you incorporate strength cardio, as I like to call it, you will lose body fat and those sexy muscles will shine through!! PROMISE, it happened to me!
Francoisehardly Francoisehardly 9 years
People are bashing cardio? Why? That doesn't make any sense. I like walking as an exercise and it doesn't make any sense to not do it. It also helps relax me and it's a good exercise I don't mind doing to help me lose extra weight and improve my legs.
lrgoldman34 lrgoldman34 9 years
honestly, I do it for all of those reasons - to stay healthy, in shape and sane. I find that on days I don't workout ... unless it was a planned day off ... I feel stressed out and crabby. Mind you, this is totally different that, say, knowing I'm taking a day off. I think it's because I'm so set in my routine and hate unpredictability. But I always feel so good mentally after a workout.
mannylove mannylove 9 years
I love cardio, I can't imagine giving it up....! There's nothing quite like that feeling you get after a good cardio work out!
Fitness Fitness 9 years
ElectroPopTart - I read that she was working with trainers that just have clients lift weights.
darkoblivion darkoblivion 9 years
Both are VERY important and I think it's silly to say carido is no good. That's like saying water isn't good for plants. Whether you're on a treadmill, hiking, or playing with your kids, anything that gets your blood pumping is fantastic for your body. Strength training is important too though for different reasons. That's one reason I LOVE circuit training. Both at the same time! :)
ElectroPopTart ElectroPopTart 9 years
you KNOWWW Michelle Pfeiffer runs an hour a day 7 days a week.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
It's just amazing to me that people are like bashing cardio. Give me a break. I like running, I like hiking, I like doing something to improve my body. I've lost 20 lbs so far and I give most of that to running. No one will ever convince me to stop doing cardio. The 90 yr old lady at my gym that is literally in better shape than me still walks on the treadmill (I swear like everyday). and my friends 85 yr old grandma swims laps everyday and she's in great shape and super spry. Obviously do whatever works for you, but I think people putting down what works for so many is irresponsible.
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
I will do cardio if it involves walking or dancing. The others not so much, but I still know its good for you.
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