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Laura Hunt

Fit and Beautiful for Your Wedding
The Importance of Cardio Exercise
Mischa Kubancik

Mischa Kubancik is the co-founder of Beyond Limits, a personal training company in San Francisco. In addition to helping brides prepare for their weddings, she is also a certified triathlon coach and has been helping clients reach their goals for over ten years.

If losing weight for your wedding is of primary concern, your exercise program should be primarily cardio workouts. While there are lots of different ways to get a cardio workout, the main thing is not to skip any.

The term cardiovascular (cardio for short) exercise seems relatively straightforward in its definition. It means exercise that involves the heart and lungs. When a muscle contracts, it uses energy (calories). When large muscle groups contract continuously, they require large amounts of energy. Because blood flow is an integral part of delivering energy and oxygen to the muscles, the heart and lungs are required to work harder. The heart works harder by beating faster and pumping more blood with each beat. The lungs work harder by expanding and contracting at a higher rate. It is the fact that the muscle contractions happen continuously and rhythmically that the heart and lungs are more involved. This is why strength training and stretching are not considered cardio exercise.

After approximately ten minutes of exercise, the body starts using more sustainable forms of energy. As the duration of exercise increases, the body continues to tap into those sustainable forms of energy. At the completion of exercise, the body even uses those sustainable forms of energy to bring the body back to pre-exercise levels of function. This means not only is the individual using energy while exercising, but they continue to use higher levels of energy after exercising. In short, cardio exercise uses significant amounts of energy (calories) compared with non-cardio exercise. By increasing the amount of energy going out and maintaining the amount of energy coming in (or decreasing it) over time, overall body fat should be reduced.

A common question from people trying to reduce body fat is which is better: longer and slower or faster and harder. There is a misconception that the former burns fat while the latter burns carbohydrates. For the purposes of body fat reduction, the only consideration should be consistency. No matter which type of exercise is done, if it is only done a couple of times a week or only for a few weeks, the progress will be slim to none. Lower intensity allows a person to do a longer workout and that can burn calories. Doing a harder, but shorter workout also burns calories. Again, for the purpose of body fat reduction, the best exercise is the kind that is done consistently, so finding a mix of high and low intensity workouts that keep you interested and motivated is the best plan.

Intensity can come in a couple of different forms. Weight bearing, impact exercises such as running, aerobics and stair climbing machines require more energy because muscles must absorb the shock of the foot landing on an immovable surface. If the impact also happens at a greater speed, the intensity will be even higher. Exercises such as cycling, swimming and rowing do not require the body to respond to impact and therefore the intensity comes primarily from muscle contractions. This doesn’t mean running is more intense than spinning, it just means the body works differently to burn calories.

One way to gauge intensity, without having to invest in a heart rate monitor, is to use perceived exertion. There are several different scales that can be used, but a simple way is to use 0-10 with 10 being the hardest. Aim to do a workout that feels like a 7.5-8 on the internal exertion scale for lower intensity workouts and above 8 for higher intensities.

Just remember that cardio exercise is the best form of exercise for losing weight and body fat. Ideally you will be doing at least 45 minutes a day/ at least 4 days per week. No matter what combination of cardio workouts you do, being consistent with your program (and watching your nutrition) is the important thing. Find as many different kinds of activities that you can, so you are less likely to get bored and give up, or enlist a friend to help you. Make cardio workouts your exercise priority.

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