Cardiovascular Exercise: Grow Your Brain While You Lose Weight

Posted by – February 4, 2011

Cardiovascular exercise really is one of the two biggest keys to losing weight, alongside beating sugar addiction. But there are other benefits too to cardiovascular exercise; a considerable weight of evidence now shows that cardiovascular exercise literally causes your brain to grow (check out a recent BBC News article here — but please bookmark this page before you leave! :) ).

Now, I don’t approve of animal experiments, but at the same time I have no compunction about reporting on them; therefore let me tell you that experiments on rats have shown that cardiovascular exercise actually causes their brains to produce growth factors that literally cause new brain cells to grow. All the evidence points to the same thing happening in humans. Other evidence indicates that cardiovascular exercise slows senile dementia, alleviates depression and improves memory.

The effects of cardiovascular exercise on the brain are truly astonishing. But if you want to lose weight, the effects of cardio on the appetite and on the body are equally astonishing.

What Is Cardiovascular Exercise?

Cardiovascular exercise, also known as “cardio”, “CV” or “aerobic exercise”, is the type of exercise that makes you get out of breath. We’re talking about stuff like running, skipping, swimming, fast walking, cycling, “aerobics” and so on.

This is in contrast with things like weight training and yoga. While weight training and yoga may be good for you in many ways, they do not have the same type of physiological action as cardiovascular exercise. So often I’ve seen people try to lose weight by going to exercise classes of various kinds that do indeed involve strenuous exercise, but do not help to lose weight because they do not improve cardiovascular efficiency.

True cardiovascular exercise uses more energy from your reserves at a continuous, sustainable rate; your body’s increased requirements for energy causes you to breathe faster. Your body needs more oxygen to create the energy that you need to do the exercise, so your lungs work harder. Your heart beats faster to pump the oyxgen around your body. A side-product of energy production is heat, so you feel hotter and sweat.

The ideal state to achieve is one where you feel invigorated rather than exhausted, but at the same time you are breathing hard and you really feel like you’re working and being extremely active. If you get into this state for half an hour or so at least every other day, your body will gradually adapt; cardiovascular exercise causes your lungs and heart to become more efficient so that they are better able to cope with the gentle, natural strain you are placing on them; your metabolic rate increases (Check out my page on the science of weight loss if you want a primer on such things as metabolic rate and the effects of exercise).

Your cardiovascular efficiency will not increase unless you put your heart and lungs under the right sort of strain; that’s why slow, unmotivated cycling or stretching exercises will not help you to lose weight.

Cardiovascular Exercise for Appetite Suppression

In itelf, cardiovascular exercise burns calories and tends to raise your basal metabolic rate, directly causing weight loss. But one of the greatest things about it for the dieter is that it suppresses appetite. This might be the opposite to what you’d expect; surely working out hard will give you an appetite and make you want to eat more? Although this may happen initially, after some weeks (I tend to find six weeks into an exercise regime is when the effects kick in the most), your appetite levels will decline — at least if you’re carrying excess fat.

In the same way that your heart and lungs adapt to your new exercise habits, it’s as if your body also recognises that carrying excess fat makes it harder to exercise. Your appetite decreases and it becomes a lot easier to exchange unhealthy foods for healthy ones.

Provided you also beat any sugar addiction that you might have (more on that coming soon; I believe that a sugar addiction is best tackled after a few weeks of starting a cardiovascular exercise schedule), cardiovascular exercise can make losing weight go from being an impossible task to being a relatively easy and enjoyable task, without adopting any kind of weird diet or taking dangerous diet pills.

Needless to say, cardiovascular exercise will also help to tone up your muscles and give you a healthy complexion, as the blood flow to your skin and limbs gradually improves along with your overall cardio health.

So, let’s say you’re convinced by now of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. How can you fit it into your life?

As it happens, that’s the topic of my next post in the weight loss secrets series …

Next: how to fit exercise into your life.

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