Done with consistency, cardio exercise can be extremely beneficial for your longevity and well being.
Nevertheless, it can be counterproductive toward your goals when not executed properly.
In this article we'll go over the most common risks and setbacks of cardio: How to prevent them, getting the most optimal results, how effective it really is in terms of calories spent, whether it's better before or after weights / other sports, etc... taking care of your joints in the process.
-Still an open debate and obviously depends on the type of surface, but there's a chance long distance running might be bad for your knees due to the sudden, repetitive nature of how your feet hit the ground with every step you take. Whatever you do, warm up more than you think you need to, and be gentle on your joints.
-It does take calories away from your body, which is awesome if you want to lose weight or stay more or less the same, but if you also have a weightlifting program and want to gain weight and strength, you have to even it out with a bit of extra eating. If you don't have much energy stored in the form of glycogen (carbs) or fat, the body can eat the muscles away (protein) to fuel your cardio session.
-It's extremely rare, but some people have died during marathons because of heart issues. Very long distance running has been linked to cardiac problems. If you or any close relative has a background, get some medical checks before you take your body to such extreme efforts.
-Neurogenesis: If you go over about half an hour of non-stop exercise, your body literally triggers the creation of new neurons. This process is related to creativity and brain youth. It also helps to prevent various degenerative diseases and has a significant anti-depression effect. Click here for more info on this amazing mechanism.
-Makes you feel good and kills stress: Good endorphins are liberated giving you a sense of wellness and positivity almost as if you eat something sugary or sunbathe after a bunch of cloudy days. Serotonin is a wonderful neurotransmitter. In other words, it improves mental health over the long run. Countless studies also back the fact that it makes the body release anti-stress chemicals. So, why do cardio? 'Cause it's awesome.
-Health and life expectancy: Helps decrease bad cholesterol and your chances of developing diabetes or suffering a stroke / heart attack. It also ups your basal metabolism which helps keep your weight in check.
-Weight loss: Stuff that takes laziness to beat burns calories. Cardiovascular – or aerobic – exercise is naturally one of them, although it probably doesn't burn as many as you think (will explain down below). If you're not in “fat-burning mode”, your body might draw that energy from your muscle and blood sugar stores. Regardless of how you exercise, you should have a rough idea of how many kcal does it burn and how does that relate to what you eat along the day. For example, if you are fasted, it's likely that the fat stores will make for your energy expenditure.
-Lung capacity (or VO2 max): Another benefit. Increases the amount of oxygen your body can utilize for a given activity in a give amount of time. As we age, this capacity deteriorates so it's very important to preserve.
BEFORE OR AFTER WEIGHTS?
Surely after. You wouldn't have the energy peak you need for strength training if you do it before. You can do cardio with little energy on some individual muscles but you certainly can't lift weights with an exhausted nervous and aerobic systems.
MORNING OR EVENING?
This one is more subjective. It depends on your daily routine, whether you are involved in some sport or not, your sleeping habits... but forget that you are going to burn more calories if you work out at any specific time of the day.
For instance, training fasted does help burn stored fat because you haven't recently eaten carbs, but if you don't eat these in the morning you will later on, and these will be the fats (yes, carbs can store as fat) you burn next morning. Think about it, it's a zero-sum scenario.
The best moment to do aerobic exercise is specific to you: it relies on how it makes you feel so go by instinct.
HOW LONG IS ENOUGH?
How many calories do you want to burn? How intense will it be and how long will it last? Running at relatively low intensity for 30 minutes should set you back about 250 kcal. Extrapolate that to your program. (Calculator) Find out here how many calories would you get rid of in any given time at any given running speed.
IS IT REALLY SO EFFECTIVE FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
Not as much as you probably think. You would have to run for about 45 minutes to burn a bowl of cereals worth of calories. The very most effective way to lose some pounds is to stay active throughout the entire day. Walk or ride a bike if you can in order to get to the workplace, stand up and walk instead of using the telephone in the office, sleep a little less if you normally wake up late, go for a walk with your dog, do a bit of waking or stretching during a TV break...
That indeed translates into a big difference in your metabolism at the end of the day. Minimizing everyday the time you spend sitting in a chair or sofa is equivalent to a bunch of cardio.
EASIEST WAY TO GET IT DONE?
What do you enjoy? You can make it much more enjoyable and entertaining with the jump rope, dancing in the disco (or outside!), stationary bike as you watch a movie, biking around beautiful landscapes (probably the best one for your body and mind), swimming... if you actually connect with the activity time will fly by. No downsides whatsoever.
WHAT ABOUT HIIT? (High Intensity Interval Training)
HIIT is a very effective method that you really didn't hear much of until recent years. It involves short bursts of explosive effort at certain intervals. The best example of this and probably the most natural to the human body is sprinting .
Find a 50m slope to run across and, giving everything you have, sprint your way up. Relax. Do it again. There are many ways and combinations you can read of in the Internet but it will take testing to see what feels right.
This will provide you with some of the benefits an entire hour of cardio yields, on top of stimulating a variety of positive effects on your organism that other types of aerobic exercise won't get you.
One possible negative effect though: There's the danger of injuring your knees, so go ahead and warm up very generously.