Pete McCall by Pete McCall

There are many well-established benefits of cardiovascular exercise, including reducing the risk for developing heart disease, lowering cholesterol, reducing excess body weight and promoting good health, but are these benefits motivating you to make cardio training a regular part of your exercise program? If the answer is no, and you’re struggling to find the motivation to add regular cardiovascular exercise to your fitness routine, here are some lesser-known benefits of cardiovascular exercise that just might help you get moving:

1. If the thought of spending a lot of time by yourself on a cardio machine simply isn’t that exciting, you might want to consider taking a cardio-based group fitness class. Indoor cycling, Zumba, interval training and dance classes led by an instructor who coaches you through the workout are a great way to have fun by exercising with other people. An additional benefit is the opportunity to expand your real-life social network by getting to know other people in the class. (My wife used to be my cycling instructor, so I’m speaking from experience.)

2. Networking at the gym isn’t just for social relationships. If you don’t go for any other reason, working out regularly at a health club frequented by your colleagues or at the company’s fitness center might enhance your career opportunities. Going out for a run in the morning won’t lead to the executive suite in the afternoon, but there is a reason why many leaders make time in their day for working out—it helps them be more productive. If you want that promotion or job change, hitting the gym for your cardio workouts gives you the chance to get to know other professionals in your field who can keep you informed of any career opportunities that might be available.

3. If you’re one of the thousands of people who enjoy downloading and listening to podcasts, make your workout time the time you listen to your favorite on-demand audio content. Listening to your favorite show while going for a walk or run or while exercising on your favorite machine at a health club is a great opportunity to do two things at once.

4. Here’s another health-promoting benefit of cardio, but it’s one that is often overlooked and rarely mentioned by most doctors. Regular steady-state cardio exercise that focuses on your aerobic metabolism (which can be monitored by exercising at an intensity where you are able to talk) can enhance mitochondrial density in your muscle cells. Mitochondria are cell organs that help convert oxygen to energy. Adding more mitochondria to your cells can improve cellular function and may also be an important component of slowing down the normal biological aging process. The take away? Adding a little bit of regular cardio exercise to your life can not only help you feel younger, but look younger as well.

5. Cardio training can enhance your ability to deal with stress more effectively. Exercise elevates levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, which are hormones that are produced during time of stress because they help produce energy. These are part of your body’s natural fight-or-flight response and function to provide immediate energy to handle tough situations. If you don’t exercise on a regular basis and have to deal with stress, your body can become jumpy and jittery when faced with a tough situation. Regular exercise can give your body the ability to handle and deal with these hormones when they are released into your system.  

6. In addition to giving you the ability to be able to deal with stress more effectively, regular cardio exercise can help you improve your physical fitness to be able to handle an emergency situation that may require you to be physically active. No, I’m not talking about a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion (although working out would increase your chances of survival). Anyone who has lived in a major urban area knows that emergencies like major snow storms, electrical outages, floods or other unforeseen events can severely disrupt the ability to drive or use mass transit. Being physically fit means you have the ability to walk (or run) home in case something happens to the transit system and the trains aren’t running.  

7. Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to enhance cognitive function and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For these reasons alone, it should be a regular part of your life. Cardio training enhances brain function by increasing oxygen flow to the brain and by boosting production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neurotransmitter responsible for promoting growth of new brain cells. Regular physical activity that elevates your heart rate is an important component of staying mentally (and physically) fit during the aging process.

While there is no guarantee that regular cardiovascular exercise can provide you with all of these life-enhancing benefits, you can’t experience any of them if you aren’t performing cardio exercise on a regularly basis. You don’t need a health club membership or expensive workout equipment—simply making the time for long, brisk walks or looking for periods of brief activity like climbing the stairs or walking for short trips are effective ways to add more cardiovascular activity to your day. To get the most benefits, however, it is important to be physically active every day.