Why Your Heart and Brain Need Cardio Exercise

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Your heart and brain require regular cardio exercise to remain healthy.

Cardio exercise is one of nature’s very best medicines, especially for your heart and brain. And it’s free, available to all of us, all of the time. We simply need to engage in it on a regular basis in some form that we find enjoyable and appropriate to our age and physical condition. Our heart and brain need this medicine to maintain optimal health and to achieve a long healthspan. But why is this so? Why is cardio exercise so important for our heart and brain?

Cardio exercise is generally considered to be any exercise over a sustained period of time that raises one’s heart rate and breathing rate. When we think of cardio exercise, we often think of aerobic exercises like biking, running, swimming, and walking. That's not a wrong impression, but know that cardio exercise can be just about any activity that is sustained and that elevates our breathing and heart rate, such as dancing or even working vigorously in the garden.

That many forms of exercise, work and movement can be considered cardio exercise is welcome news, because cardio exercise has been shown to:

  • Improve mood
  • Demonstrate neuroprotective properties
  • Enhance cognitive functioning
  • Boost coordination
  • Reduce levels of depression and anxiety,
  • Manage stress

Let's take a closer look at the benefits of cardio exercise on brain and heart health. 

Exercise for Brain and Psychological Health

Cardio exercise can improve your brain function, including cognitive skills and memory. Your increased heart rate promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. This in turn can stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory. Also, cardio exercise can produce changes in areas of the brain that are associated with the reduction of anxiety and stress. One mechanism responsible for this is the increase in production of and sensitivity to certain hormones including dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.

Regular exercise will ensure a healthy brain and happy heart.

Exercise for Heart Health

There is a significant body of research that demonstrates the relationship between cardio exercise and cardiovascular health, especially pertaining to the regulation of cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In a study published in Nature Medicine, a team of scientists set out to investigate the role that chronic inflammation plays in heart health. Our bone marrow produces white blood cells, called leukocytes, which promote inflammation. While we need these white blood cells for immune response, the body often over-produces them, and they collect in artery walls. The build-up of these artery-clogging white cells is known as plaque.

Recent research supports the need for exercise in order to avoid cardiovascular-related diseases.

During the study, two groups of mice were used, one with a treadmill for exercise, and one without. After six weeks, the mice who ran their treadmill had lower levels of the inflammatory leukocytes compared to the idle mice

Scientists explained that exercising caused the running mice to produce less leptin, which is a hormone produced by fat tissue that signals bone marrow to initiate the production of leukocytes. Ultimately, the diminished production of leukocytes led to a reduced output of inflammatory chemicals — a crucial step in the fight for heart health. 

Additional Reasons to Exercise

In the end, you’ll reap benefits from all forms of exercise, including cardio and weight resistance training. The advantages of daily exercise are far-reaching and include:

  1. Weight Loss: Exercise can help with weight loss. Lack of exercise, and     lack of activity in general, is the leading cause of weight gain and obesity. Regular cardio exercise, combined with weight training is the best way to get extra weight off and keep it off.
  2. Muscle and Bone: Regular exercise will help develop and maintain healthy muscle and bone tissue, especially as you age.
  3. Energy: Exercise will boost your energy and help fight off fatigue, including fatigue associated with various illnesses. 
  4. Lower Disease Risk: Lack of regular exercise is a major contributing factor to chronic disease. Exercise can lower the risks associated with various chronic illnesses, including type II diabetes and high blood pressure. 
  5. Skin: Exercise can lower oxidative stress on the cells, resulting in improved blood flow to the skin, which can help delay the onset of aging skin.
  6. Sleep and Relaxation: Regular exercise can make it easier to relax and improve your sleep.
  7. Chronic Pain: Exercise can help mitigate pain associated with various health conditions including chronic lower back pain, shoulder pain, and fibromyalgia.
  8. Sex Life: Regular exercise may increase your interest in sex and enhance your sexual pleasure and performance.

Your Takeaway

The older we get, the tougher it is to get off of our comfy sofa and get out there and move. Make it easier on yourself by finding exercise that you really enjoy that will increase your heart rate and your breathing for a sustained period of at least 20 or 30 minutes. Do it five times a week. Once you discover the feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, you’ll be hooked! Plus, you’ll feel happier, be more energetic, and sleep better. 


Show references

  1. Eriksson J, Taimela S, Koivisto VA. Exercise and the metabolic syndrome. Diabetologia. 1997 Feb; 40(2): 125-35. doi: 10.1007/s001250050653
  2. Frodermann V, Rohde D, Courties G, et al. Exercise reduces inflammatory cell production and cardiovascular inflammation via instruction of hematopoietic progenitor cells. Nature Medicine. 2019; 25: 1761–1771. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0633-x
  3. Pedrinolla A, Schena F, Venturelli M. Resilience to Alzheimer's Disease: The Role of Physical Activity. 2017 Apr 3;14(5):546 - 553. doi: 10.2174/1567205014666170111145817
  4. Pedrinolla A, Schena F, Venturelli M. Resilience to Alzheimer's Disease: The Role of Physical Activity. 2017 Apr 3;14(5):546 - 553. doi: 10.2174/1567205014666170111145817
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