Unpopular Opinion: The Case For Cardio

It’s a sad reality that the word ‘cardio’ has garnered such a negative reputation in the fitness community these days. People either seem to neglect it entirely, out of a sense of extreme spite, or they force themselves to do it once or twice a week with the begrudging attitude of a suburban mom trying to force feed quinoa to her seven-year-old. I’m going to hit you guys with a very hot take right now: cardio is awesome. It’s good for the mind and the body, and it has extremely beneficial impacts on a person’s health — impacts that are arguably (and I would say definitively) better for a person in the long run than those of any other type of physical exercise. 

Don’t just take my word on this, take it from the likes of Plato, (and for you med majors) Hippocrates and Galen; all of them have left records in which they praised the health benefits of cardio. Plato is even quoted saying: “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” Powerful words from the wise man. There are also about a billion publications in scientific literature that expound on the benefits of cardiovascular activity, so I’m not going to list all of them here. I can’t resist, though, including this quote from Shashi Agarwal in the National Library of Medicine: “Physical activity [cardio in the context of the article] is an easy, inexpensive, and effective way to avoid CVD [cardiovascular disease], and the benefits accrue, irrespective of the age at which a person initiates an exercise program.” It should be noted that the CDC reports that heart disease is the leading cause of mortality in America accounting for about 20 percent of all deaths.

My point is not to prove that lifting is bad, per se, but rather that cardio is good. People need to start putting a little bit more respect on its name. Part of the problem is that most people see cardio as a sort of hellish, self-inflicted torture selection system where they are stuck with four choices: running, biking, elliptical, or StairMaster. I’m right along with you guys in saying that, after you’ve done each of them for the thousandth time, they start to become pretty unbearable. But — I urge you — think outside the box! You gym folks are a creative lot; if I’ve seen people climb sideways into the rear-delt machine to hit abs, then I know you guys can come up with some creative ways to do cardio. Still drawing a blank? Allow me to hit you with a couple of fun examples right off the dome: basketball, boxing, jump-roping, nature hikes, rock-climbing, hell, even ping-pong counts in my book. Do you love attention/are psycho? Hit the stairs outside Persson until your legs or your pride can’t take it anymore. Embrace your inner Footloose Kevin Bacon and take a dance class — Zumba could use some fresh faces in the room. Find a couple of things that you find fun and mix things up. 

Cardio also has exceptional benefits on mental health. It can actually get you high in a completely legal and 100 percent healthy way. Oh, now you’re interested? Well, it’s called a runner’s high (you can get this through other cardio activities too.) And how about that feeling after you’ve just played a competitive five-on-five pickup basketball game? You know, when you walk over to the water fountain at the end of the game, look up at the analog clock and realize that an hour and a half has completely flown by without you even realizing it — that’s the magic of cardio. Lifting is great for stress, too, but the closest thing you can get to a runner’s high in lifting is a massive headrush, then a nosebleed, followed by the inevitable blackout. Though both lifting and cardio are great for the mind, the best way to maximize their respective boons is to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to each one. If you skew your daily physical activity towards lifting too much, you won’t experience their positive combined effects. 

So, the next time you’re about to hit your 11th set on the bench press, maybe… don’t — then head upstairs to the cardio area. Your heart and brain will thank you.