“I want to lose fat. I should probably be doing more cardio.”
– Women Everywhere
Cardio is often thought of as the most important factor for fat loss, but it can actually do more harm than good.
It’s often over-used and abused.
Here are the facts about cardio
- It teaches your body to conserve energy. Because you’re able to withstand a lot more without expending as much energy. Most people drastically over-estimate how many calories they burn during cardio.
- The body adapts to cardio easily. This means once you plateau, in order to keep getting results you have to keep doing MORE.
- Cardio has been shown to actually increase appetite. This happens not just as a physical response but a mental one as well. Have you ever finished a long run or cardio class and thought “I just burned 400 calories, I can eat this donut!”? Yep. We often eat more because we feel we “earned” it through cardio when in fact, as mentioned above, you probably didn’t burn anywhere near as many calories as you thought.
Cardio does, however, have benefits and it can help you lose body fat. The key is to do the right kind and the right amount and never to do more than you have to in order to get the results you want.
Here are three rules for effective cardio when you are trying to lose body fat
- Long and light
The longer your cardio workout, the lighter your intensity should be. Cardio elevates cortisol, which means doing long-duration and high intensity activity actually starts to be a significant stressor on the body. Doing lighter activity such as power walking, hiking, or a dance class, actually can lower cortisol and is much less stressful on your body.
- Fast and furious.
One of the most effective activities for fat loss is sprinting. This means short bursts (fast) and all-out intensity (furious). The harder your activity, the shorter the work period should be.
Even high intensity cardio elevates cortisol, but keeping it short and allowing for recovery gives the body a chance to combat that increase, which is actually good for you. When the body is able to respond to a brief period of stress then that stress goes away, it makes you stronger and more able to handle stress the next time around. Using intervals of max effort alternated with a sufficient recovery period for 15 to 20 minutes at a time is a great way to get a short but highly effective fat-burning workout.
- Make it fun.
There are a million ways to get your heart rate up and burn calories. Why not make it something you enjoy? Activities such as dancing, basketball, tennis, hiking etc. are great workouts and can be fun too. This way not only are you getting a workout but you’re also lowering your stress levels and increasing your quality of life.
When you’re having fun your body releases endorphins which lower cortisol. Less cortisol, less fat storage, which are much more beneficial for the body and the mind.
There is a time and a place for cardio, but it should never be used as a punishment for something you ate, as a reward for eating something you like, or as the only means for fat loss.
If fat loss is your goal, first get your diet in check, then add two to three days of strength training. Be sure you’re managing stress and getting enough sleep and only then should you add in cardio.
Keep it light and long or fast and furious and always be sure you’re doing something you enjoy.