What are the most important benefits of cardio?

What are the most important benefits of cardio_.png

As you saw in the last two blogs, there are two distinct factors that make movement a cardiovascular exercise (cardio):

  1. Moving a large amount of your muscles circulates more blood through your cardiovascular system causing your heart to beat stronger (not just faster).  
  2. Moving continuously for longer than two minutes so your body starts relying on your oxygen-using, longer-lasting system for fueling muscles.

That continuous, large-muscle type of movement creates a cascade of events in your body with instant or, in other words, Real-time Results such as:

  • De-stressing. The hormones and chemicals produced when your muscles contract in this way shift your nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response (as long as the way you are doing cardio is not more stress-producing for you).
  • Lowering blood pressure. To help your blood vessels handle the increased pressure of the stronger heart contraction, your body releases nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes blood vessels. This stays in your system for up to 22 hours after one bout of moderate intensity cardio, helping to keep blood pressure at a healthier level.
  • Better blood sugar levels. Because your muscles are using the sugars (glucose) in your blood to help fuel muscles, cardio helps you manage elevated blood sugar levels. Cardio also send signals to the receptors in muscles to be more sensitive to your own insulin. This helps lower blood sugar instantly and for a few hours after you stop exercising.
  • Boost sleep quality. Cardio during the day means that night you have a better chance of falling asleep easily and sleeping more soundly through the night. As we all know, a good night’s sleep means a better tomorrow.
  • Better digestion. The repetitive, continuous movement of cardio helps your digestive system improve its mobility, making it work more ‘smoothly’ from top to bottom.
  • Lifts mood. After about ten minutes of cardio, your brain releases a dose of various brain chemicals that improves mood, calms your nerves, and boosts your ability to hands life’s stressors. These are the same chemicals that are in many mental health medications. They are also the ones released when you eat comfort food. The difference is that cardio releases them in the balanced way that they were designed to elevate your mood naturally.
  • Immune protection.  is boosted for up to several hours. One way is by increasing natural killer cell activity—the first line of defense against colds and flu as well as most forms of cancer.
  • Improves focus. As little as ten minutes of cardio increases the ability of your brain to focus. Cardio can be used as an immediate and effective part of treatment for people with ADD or anyone living in this fast-paced, distracted culture.
  • Strengthens memory. Each bout of cardio stimulates the growth of new brain cells like nothing else does. Your brain releases BDNF, a chemical that has been called Miracle Grow for the brain. Even better, it boosts the parts of the brain that stores memories. Exercising before an exam has been shown to help students improve grades and exercise has helped people concerned about memory loss with aging get more out of brain-training exercises.  

Take a moment to ask yourself, Which of those Real-time Results of cardio really got my attention? These are the results of cardio that are most important. Why? Because they matter most to your brain.  

Even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, your brain is hardwired to take care of your body in every moment. When you use the long-term benefits of cardio, like weight loss or health protection, to get motivated to do cardio, it just does not work. Your brain is most motivated by what will make you feel and function better now.  

There are, however, a few Real-time Results of cardio that are not helpful because they are based on misconceptions and marketing.  The top three Empty Results to watch out for are:

  • Sweat: All that large muscle, continuous movement produces heat. That increases your body temperature, possibly causing you to sweat. Whether you sweat depends on many factors including genetics, hydration level, your clothing, the type of activity you are doing, the temperature of the air, the humidity of the air. The fact is that sweat does not mean you ‘got a good workout’. It only means you need to drink more water to rehydrate.  
  • Muscle burn: Feeling the burn may be an outdated saying, but the connection between muscles burning and the benefit of exercise is still alive and well in the minds of many.   You might be told you are ‘working’ certain parts of the body, implying that the burning sensations means you are burning more fat in those areas. The reality is that the burn is just the sensation of muscles fatiguing, not fat melting.  
  • Burning calories:  Although it appears to be pretty easy to find out how many calories you burn with cardio, it really isn’t. The calories your body burns, even for the same exact level of exercise, vary too much to be predictable and the numbers flashing in front of you are only a rough estimate. Burning calories is not as important as we have made it out to be.  More important for weight loss is doing cardio to feel better now, so you are less likely to reach for food to do that.

Take a moment to create your own list of Real-time Results from cardio to help you stay naturally and easily motivated to use this incredible resource for feeling and functioning your best every day.  

Next week, we’ll take a tour through the unique Real-time Results of strength training.  



Do you have exercise information overload?

Which do you use_ (17)

This is fifth in the series on building self-motivation for exercise.  

Click here to read blog #1 , blog #2, blog #3, and blog #4.

The other day, I met a woman who was really motivated to exercise but was not doing it. She knew what was missing. She said, “I was getting so much conflicting information about exercise. I didn’t know what to do anymore, so I just stopped doing it.” If you’re in the same situation, let’s get you out of exercise information overload and free your motivation for exercise.

Condition number three for self-motivation is competence: the need for a sense of control over the outcome and sense of confidence you have the ability to get it.1  How does this apply to exercise? You might have conditions number one (autonomy) and two (relatedness) strongly in place, but if you don’t know how to exercise to get what you want from it, it’s like being lost in a forest without a map and a compass.

For competence, you need to know how to apply the natural laws of the body2 to exercise so you can confidently navigate your way to getting what you want, while skillfully avoiding the quicksand of exercises and programs that break these natural laws.

Use it to keep it. Your body is a “use-it-to-keep-it” system. The movements you use regularly, you get to keep. The ones you don’t use often will naturally fade away. That means that consistency is the most important factor and that means how you exercise must be do-able for you and fit your current lifestyle.

What you practice gets stronger. This natural law means what you practice (specifically) is what you get better at. Sounds simple, but there are many examples of how we break this natural law, such as doing programs designed for certain sports, for dancers, or for military professionals. Design exercise to practice the movements you want to do to function better in everyday life so you can achieve specifically what you want from it.

Natural growth rate. Your body has a natural rate of growth, which is about 10% per week. That is how much of an increase in exercise the body can tolerate per week. If you walk for 20 minutes, your body can adapt to a two-minute increase the next week. We break this natural law when we try to ‘jump start’ our progress by pushing the body hard right from the start to get quicker results. The pitfall is the body doesn’t work that way and you risk your body or your motivation breaking down.

You are unique. Your body is unique and responds differently to exercise than someone else’s. We break this natural law when we copy what worked for someone else or think we should be able to do the same amount of exercise we did the day before or exercise in a way someone else decides is best for us. Your body is also unique day to day, depending on factors like sleep, nutrition, and stress. This is where mindfulness puts you back in control of getting what you want from exercise. Paying attention to your body in the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, allows you to stay out of the ‘shoulds’.

Exercise science is the map. Mindfulness is the compass. When you know how to use them to follow the natural laws of your body, you can navigate through the ‘noise’ out there and have confidence you can stay self-motivated to get what you want from exercise.

Rethink This Week: Try using this statements as a way to simplify your exercise know-how and give you confidence you will get what you want from it.

  • What I do for exercise is do-able enough for my body and my lifestyle to keep me consistently exercising right now.
  • What I am doing is specifically designed for the skills and abilities I want from exercise right now in my life.
  • The level of exercise I do each week is at the ‘just right level’ for my body right now.
  • I use mindfulness to listen to my body, rather than basing what I do on the ‘shoulds’.


Exercise WELL,




  1. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-determination-theory/
  2. Exercise Physiology, 8th edition, McArdle, Katch, Katch.

Who would you exercise for?

Which do you use_ (10).pngThis is the fourth in this series on building self-motivation for exercise.  Click here to read blog #1 , blog #2, and blog #3. 

“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not disabled.” These are the words of Rick Hoyt, son of Dick Hoyte. You may know his story. In 1977 Rick, who has cerebral palsy, told his father he wanted to participate in a benefit run for a lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick agreed to push his son in his wheelchair and they completed that race next-to-last. Rick’s words to his dad after that race went on to fuel him through over a thousand races, including marathons, duathlons, and triathlons.1

These types of stories capture our attention and touch our hearts. They tap into something that is within each of us: the innate desire to connect with and take care of our own “tribe”. No doubt you have found yourself doing things you never thought you would, or could, simply because a loved one needed it.

This strong connection between your motivation and who you care about is what creates condition #2 for self-motivation. It’s called Relatedness: the need for a sense of belonging and attachment to others.2  We are all carry the potential for this kind of amazing motivation right inside of us.  Sometimes it’s unleashed by a defining moment.  I have seen it unleashed in a coaching conversation.

There is a critical caveat. You need condition #1, autonomy, for condition #2 to work. Doing something for someone because it is important to them makes it a ‘should’, and in the end drains motivation.

When you have that four or five level of intrinsic motivation for exercise and see how it relates to those you care about, you have some serious energy for self-motivation. If exercise feels like a ‘should’, go back and strengthen condition number one before exploring condition number two.

This condition of relatedness is also the reason why you can feel a great surge of motivation when you are part of a step challenge team, or on a sports team, or part of an exercise group on social media. Being part of a group exercising for the same reason can be a great motivator.  Yet, it can be a double-edged sword. If that connection is your only source for motivation, it will lower your confidence for self-motivation because when the group is not there, your motivation will disappear too.  Again, condition number one needs to be strongly in place if being part of a group is going to lead to lasting self-motivation.

Next week we will look at how this all connects to the last condition for exercise self-motivation.

Rethink this week:  Close your eyes and visualize yourself at some point in the future, doing all the things you want to be able to do. They might be things you can do now and want to continue doing in the future, or things you can’t do but really want to be able to do. Imagine you moving in your body with all the strength, stamina, and mobility you need to do those activities with ease, confidence, and full enjoyment. Who are you doing it with? How does your ability to do those activities help the lives of those you care about?



  1. http://www.teamhoyt.com/About-Team-Hoyt.html
  2. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-determination-theory/


Are you training your brain to avoid exercise?

In my last blog, I brought up self-motivation and how we rarely build that skill when it comes to exercise. Instead, we are flooded with external motivators, making us less confident we can trust ourselves to take care of our own health.

According to a well-tested motivation theory, self-motivation happens when three basic conditions are met. These conditions are universal. They are instinctive. They apply across time, gender, and culture. Exercise self-motivation, however, has its own unique considerations, because we are not just dealing with the brain, but the body too.

Think of all the ways we talk about exercise: ‘no pain, no gain’, ‘I felt a good soreness’, ‘I hate exercise but have to lose weight, ‘just get it done’.  Consider that the top fitness trend right now is High Intensity Interval Training (AKA exercise at a level of all-out effort). Now consider the process our brain uses for choosing to do or avoid something. Neuroscientists call this the Habit Loop:

the habit loop 3.png

  1. Stimulus: A cue in your environment or a thought in your mind.
  2. Action:What you do in response to that stimulus.
  3. Reward: The instant effect of that action. If it makes you instantly feel better, your brain will log a positive memory attached to that word, image, or action. If it makes you feel instantly worse, mentally or physically, your brain will log a negative memory attached to that word or action.
  • The more consistently positive the memories for a stimulus, the more likely it is to become a habit.
  • The more consistently negative the memories for this stimulus, the more likely you will be to avoid that action.

Bottom line: When exercise is associated with pain, embarrassment, fatigue, stress, failure, injury, or discomfort, you are training your brain to avoid exercise.  

Are you seeing how this huge catch-22 has us stuck?! How did we get into this mess?

  • Where do most people first experience exercise? By playing sports as a kid.
  • What images are used in the fitness media? People pushing their bodies to accomplish a goal (e.g., athletic training).
  • Where do many of the “fitness experts” get their start? As athletes.
  • Who are our most popular heroes? Athletes, superheroes, and other people who achieve super-human feats with their minds and bodies.

When training to compete, and achieve super-human feats, you do need to push your body beyond its limits. Pain, fatigue, and sweat are a natural byproduct of that type of exercise. For healthy-person exercise, however, none of those are required, but athletic training is so enmeshed in our culture and way of approaching exercise that we think pain and fatigue are a natural part of exercise. No wonder we have trained our brain to avoid it!

Can we retrain our brains to exercise? Yes!  By blending brain science with movement science and your Why for exercising, you have the ideal conditions for exercise self-motivation.

Brain movement

Stay tuned for my next three blog posts to learn about the three basic conditions for self-motivation, and how they apply to exercise.

Rethink This Week: Notice the ‘data’ your brain has accumulated about exercise from messages and experiences. What is the balance of positive to negative?



Are you outsourcing your motivation?

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Have you ever said things like, “I need a someone to make me exercise. I can’t be trusted to keep myself on track”?  To get and stay motivated to exercise we are often told to get a  trainer, or a partner, or do a fitness challenge, or use an activity monitor.  Sure, we all need a push so we are not lazy, right?!

It’s not that trainers, challenges, and activity monitors don’t work. They will get you motivated and can help you reach a goal. The problem is they do nothing to build the skill of self-motivation. Then when you don’t put on your activity monitor, or can’t afford the trainer any longer, or the fitness challenge ends, your motivation does too. You end up in feeling ‘lazy’ and searching for a new trick to make you exercise.  More importantly, you are left believing you can’t be trusted to motivate yourself for exercise.

If the trust in your ability to self-motivate has dwindled over the years, it’s not you. It’s because we, as a society, have come to depend on these external sources for motivation. It’s so common to hear the advice, even from well-meaning professionals, to get an exercise partner or hire a trainer or join a fitness challenge to keep you accountable, we just assume that we can’t be trusted to stay motivated and need help. It is clear from research that it is the other way around.  We can’t be trusted because we’ve become so skilled outsourcing our motivation.

The scientific research shows that all of those external motivators—the trainer, the monitor, the rewards—are great for temporary sources for motivation, but internal motivation is the kind more likely to last.1

Relying on external motivators to ‘make you’ exercise only distances you from your internal sources for self-motivation.

What would happen if you stopped outsourcing your motivation? Imagine being so confident in your own self-motivation skills that you knew deep down that you could stay motivated for exercise? Research is saying loud and clear, IT IS POSSIBLE. You CAN stay motivated for exercise. And the best part is, it takes WAY less mental energy than outsourcing your motivation!

Just like any skill, though, it takes time, but in the end, self-motivation is a much more reliable way to protect something as important as your health and wellbeing. The first step is being aware of how much you rely on these external motivators and assessing your self-motivation skills.

In the next few blogs, we will see how it is possible to stop outsourcing exercise motivation and start building confidence you can be trusted to keep yourself motivated for exercise.

Rethink Exercise:   What external motivators do you rely on to ‘make you exercise’?  Activity monitor, trainer, gym membership, ‘seeing results’?



  1. A New Look at the Science of Weight Control: How Acceptance and Commitment Strategies Can Address the Challenge of Self-Regulation. Evan M. Forman and Meghan L. Butryn. Appetite. 2015 Jan; 84: 171–180.