The fine bottom line of cardio intensity

Rethink Exercsise

 In the last blog, I talked about why cardio is so much more than just getting your heart rate up. With all the advice about the intensity of cardiovascular exercise lately, let’s take a look at what happens when you exercise at different intensities so you can make a choice about the right level for your body.

Oxygen: Remember that when your body has the equipment to use oxygen, it can fuel your muscles in a more sustainable way. The more equipment, the wider the range of exercise intensities your body can handle without getting tired and needing to stop. If the equipment that uses oxygen to produce energy is lacking, your body will have to go back to using the short-acting, non-oxygen-requiring system for producing energy. So, when you reach a level of exercise where your body cannot keep up with the demand for more oxygen to produce energy, your body will shift to the energy-producing system that runs out quickly.

What you practice gets stronger: This is why someone who does not move for extended periods of time will very often get tired faster, whereas a regular exerciser who has built up the equipment needed to use that aerobic system can last for a long time. Your body is a use it to keep it system.  Like any good system, when one part is not working well, another part will pick up the slack in order to keep the system working. When it comes to the cardiovascular system, even if you have a disease that limits one part of that system, other parts will adapt—as long as they get the signals to do so. Cardiovascular exercise signals the whole system to get stronger in any way it can. This is why someone with lung disease or heart disease is especially in need of cardiovascular exercise, to signal the rest of the system to pick up the slack. When the heart or lungs don’t work as well, the muscles will compensate by building more equipment so they can use oxygen more effectively.

Carbon dioxide: If, during a cardiovascular exercise, you kick it up to a higher intensity, your breathing will reach an uncomfortable level. This is not your body wanting more oxygen—it is your body trying to get rid of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of the non-oxygen-using fuel system. That uncomfortable shortness of breath is called the ‘anaerobic threshold’. It is a sure sign your body won’t last much longer unless you lower the intensity.

Breathing vs. heart rate: This is why your breathing gives you a better idea about the function of your cardiovascular system than heart rate does. You can sense it, without having to measure it.  Plus, without taking a special test to measure your maximal heart rate, your exercise heart rate range can only be predicted (and not very accurately).  Your breathing level, however, is a real-time measure of what is happening in your body. The ‘comfort’ of your breathing lets you know if you have the equipment needed keep fueling muscles. When you are breathing uncomfortably, it is a sign the system is not prepared to keep up and your body is relying more on the non-oxygen, short-lasting fuel system.

Building stamina is possible for any body: For someone who is very fit, this happens at a much higher intensity. For someone who has not built up the oxygen-using system equipment, this happens at a much lower level. For anyone, though, when you exercise regularly, your body adapts by building more equipment for the oxygen-using fuel system, because it is a much more efficient way to fuel your muscles.

“Cardio” or “weight loss”: If you are looking to burn more calories and fat because you want to lose weight, don’t get side-tracked by trying to decide if you should do the cardio program or the weight loss program on your treadmill. Yes, your body uses more carbs at high intensity and fats at lower intensity, but in the end it really does not matter. Your body will break down fats to replace the carbohydrate (glucose) stores when you are resting after exercise. You don’t need to choose between getting more cardio or burning more fat. It’s all good.

The fine bottom line: What is more important for weight loss as well as overall fitness and health is how consistently you do cardio. Remember, after about three days of not doing cardio, the ‘equipment’ starts to get rusty. That’s why it’s important to consider how your brain perceives the exercise too.  Your brain is hardwired to avoid what is uncomfortable.  If you push the intensity to ‘get a better workout’ and are wishing every minute away, your brain is much less likely to want to go back and do that again—and there goes consistency.

motivating intensity

That, my friends, is the fine bottom line of cardio. Do cardio at a moderate to motivating challenge for your breathing. Each time be sure it is the intensity level that feels good physically and mentally, so your brain wants to exercise again. Some days the motivating challenge is just getting started and enjoying a moderate intensity. Some days it could be a higher intensity because it feels good to push a bit harder. But on all days, if you are going to get the health and well-being benefits, it needs to feel motivating, not uncomfortable.     

Next week, I’ll list all the amazing Real-time Results you get from doing cardio in a way that benefits your whole person.

Ready for exercise success?

Click here to listen to this audio series for FREE

part 1.png

Does this sound familiar?  You know exercise is good for you, but you struggle to be successful at it. You see that some people are successful at it, though, so why is it so easy for them? In this series I am going to share with you four science-based solutions to your struggles with exercise.

But first, let’s talk about why the common approaches to exercise make it harder to be successful.

Does success with exercise mean you

  • reached your goal weight?
  • see results (e.g., muscle definition)?
  • completed a 5K?

Any one of these would certainly would be considered success in our culture.

But here is the twist: brain and body science tells us this way of thinking actually makes it harder to be successful over time.

Exercise scientists, through thousands of studies, have discovered the ways to exercise to improve fitness and health in a lasting way. Neuroscientists have discovered how the brain changes when something becomes a habit. Yet these have nothing to do with how long you can plank or how many calories you burn or if you can run a 5K.

In fact, what scientists know about lasting exercise success is missing in the most popular exercise programs. To make it worse, common ways to motivate for exercise, such as fitness challenges, or goal setting, can actually sabotage the creation of habits in the brain.

Clearly, our ways of thinking about exercise have steered us away from what scientists have discovered works for exercise success. For real exercise success, we must blend what we know works for the body with what we know works for the brain with what is most important to you.

In the next sessions, we will do just that. You will learn what science tells us works, how to spot the ways we stray from this, and rethink your way to your own version of exercise success.

Until then, take a moment to ask yourself, what does exercise success mean to me?



Listen to this series by clicking here.  Want to be notified when the next part is released? Sign up for my email list and I will send you notifications, plus bonuses and even more solutions for exercise success. 




Why you cannot fail at REAL exercise

Have you ever felt like every time you try to exercise your body or your schedule get in the way? If you feel like you can’t exercise right now, rest assured, it’s not you! It very well could be how you think about exercise. Learn the real definition of exercise in this video that paves the way for exercise success that lasts.

Please share this video and let’s start a “movement” to make exercise more motivating for everybody!

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3-3One of the “as sure as rain” ways to drain exercise motivation is to ignore the principles of exercise training. Principles are fundamental truths or a basis for understanding how something works. The principle properties of water tell us it freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C.  It is a scientific fact upon which we can expect water to behave.

Exercise principles are the bases for understanding how our body changes with, and without, exercise. They are not, however, great selling points for fitness products.  Who wants to hear that your body will change slowly, or you have a very slim chance of having arms like Michelle Obama (unless you are Michelle Obama!), and that the grueling exercise program you did to get fit, you need to keep doing to stay fit?

Since these truths are usually not even in the fine print of fitness ads, here they are in big bold print.

  1. EXPECT results to vary. The principle of Individuality states every body responds differently to exercise; person to person, day to day. This principle is subconsciously forgotten when we see a body-perfect model in an advertisement and directly ignored when someone tries to sell you what worked for them.  When we expect linear results and try to outsmart a plateau, we have forgotten this fact as well. Pay attention to YOUR body.  Expect day-to-day fluctuations. Embrace your body’s uniqueness. 
  2. Enough IS truly enough. The principle of Progressive Overload states the body gradually adapts when it is challenged at the just-right level. If you give a plant just the right amount of water, light, and nutrients, it can’t help but grow stronger. Give it too much or too little of what it needs, and it withers. Our body grows the same way, gradually and only with the just-right amount of challenge. It can’t be jump started, out smarted, or over-challenged, and expected to give you quicker results. Ignoring this only means more pain and less progress. Science tells us the natural rate of growth of the body (at most) is 10% per week!  That’s it! Find YOUR enough.  Give it to your body regularly.  Trust the natural process. 
  3. What you practice gets stronger. The principle of Specificity basically means your body adapts to what you give it regularly. Walk regularly to get stronger for walking, squat regularly to get stronger for picking up and lifting. This may sound obvious, but it is ignored when we do a program that was specifically designed for improving athletic or military performance and expect to improve health and function for daily life. Plan for what YOU want. Exercise for that purpose. Practice regularly.  
  4. Your body adapts, in both directions. The principal of Reversibility says our body gets used to what we give it. Give it regular movement, it will get better at moving. Give it regular stillness, it will get very good at not moving. Intense programs that put a time frame on getting fit ignore the fact that what you do to get fit needs to be sustainable, if you want those results to last. This principle also reminds us, if you find your self “out of shape” at any stage of life, you can reverse that too. The principle works both ways.  Find what you enjoy.  Do it regularly.  Enjoy lasting results.

Exercise in a way that is true to your body and your motivation is much more likely to be true to you.

True meaning


the ability to do the activities of daily life with ease

and have energy left over to meet emergencies and do the activities you enjoy

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Have you found fitness that gives you:  

Ease in daily life?

Confidence you can handle physical and emotional stress?

Energy left over to enjoy life?

If not, maybe you’ve experienced the energy, time, and motivation-draining effects of myth-based fitness. Are you ready for fitness that is so user-friendly, it becomes a resource for enjoying more of every day?

The first step is clearing away the myths and misconceptions about exercise and discovering fitness based on facts. Sign up now for my FREE online course called Fueled by Facts. It’s your 30-day fitness myths cleanse!

father and little son silhouettes play at sunset