Do You Really Need Cardio for a Healthy Heart?
Dr. Edythe Heus
May 24, 2023

What do you do for cardio?

Whether you love or hate cardio, you probably had an answer to that question, didn’t you?

That would be unsurprising, considering how society has conditioned us to believe that cardio is essential for a well-rounded exercise routine.

They mean well—cardiovascular disease is the chief cause of death in the world, accounting for 32% of all mortalities, after all. 

Here comes the big but: you don’t need to huff and puff your way into improving your heart health.

Let’s dive into what constitutes cardiovascular fitness and how you can achieve it even without cardio.

Why You Don’t Need Cardio to be Heart Healthy

Aerobic exercise or cardio has long been hailed as the gold standard for cardiovascular health, and not without good reason.

During aerobic exercise, our heart rate increases because our cardiovascular system works harder to supply oxygen to our muscles. When performed over time, cardio induces changes in our heart, blood, and blood vessels that lead to:

  • increasing insulin sensitivity,
  • blocking plaque build-up on the artery walls, and
  • lowering blood pressure, among others.

These effects of aerobic exercise protect us from cardiovascular diseases and promote overall well-being.

However, cardio is not the only form of exercise that has been found to improve cardiovascular health. Numerous studies have found exercise, in general, to be beneficial for the heart.

Moreover, increased physical activity (differentiated from exercise by lack of premeditation or structure) from a sedentary lifestyle can drastically lower the risk for heart conditions.

Overall, available literature points to lack of physical activity, and not lack of aerobic exercise per se, as the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

How Exercise Mitigates Cardiovascular Disease Beyond Cardiac Adaptation

The abovementioned physical adaptations in the cardiovascular system caused by cardio are not the only ways exercise contributes to heart health.

Recent research has found other mechanisms by which exercise and physical activity influence cardiovascular fitness. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1. Circadian Rhythm Regulation

The disruption of our circadian rhythm has been linked to negative alterations to our heart rate, blood pressure, and hormone levels. When left unchecked, cardiovascular diseases can emerge due to prolonged dysregulation in the sleep-wake cycle.

Exercise helps restore our body’s natural circadian rhythm and lessen our risk for diseases by stimulating the endocrine system.

Studies show that people who exercise have lower cortisol levels at night, helping them sleep more easily. Exercise also increases the body’s melatonin production, resulting in better sleep.

2. Mitophagy

When our body is under stressful conditions such as exercise, our cells switch into survival mode and initiate autophagy. In this process, they recycle old or damaged cell parts for energy, keeping themselves healthy.

Research has recently found that the selective autophagy of mitochondria, or mitophagy, is integral to keeping the heart healthy and balanced. However, too much mitophagy can be harmful to the heart as well.

Amazingly, exercise also helps to regulate the level of mitophagy in the heart, protecting it in the short and long term.

3. Parasympathetic Regulation

Unbeknownst to most people, our nervous system is actually involved in our body’s involuntary movement. The autonomic nervous system, in particular, regulates our heart rate and blood pressure.

The autonomic nervous system is further divided into two: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former is involved in accelerating, while the latter is decelerating our heart rate.

Dysfunction in these systems can cause irregularities and eventually disease in the heart, especially with increased sympathetic activity. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated in fight-or-flight situations, which is helpful in short bouts but harmful in prolonged periods.

Exercise brings this sympathetic overactivation into balance by increasing vagal tone. The vagus nerve is a fundamental component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is chiefly responsible for rest in the body.

A more active vagus nerve protects us from arrhythmia and hypertension, which can arise due to chronic stress. It also enhances our heart’s ability to contract, increasing our aerobic endurance.

So, What’s the Best Type of Exercise for the Heart?

While research on the physiological processes behind the cardioprotective effects of exercise has advanced, the jury is still out on what kind and intensity of exercise are most optimal.

For now, what has become clear is the importance of increased physical activity and exercise on your heart health.

If cardio is your thing, by all means, keep doing what you love. Just be warned: too much cardio comes with diminishing and even negative returns on your cardiovascular health.

But if you’re looking for a non-strenuous exercise that is highly beneficial for aerobic fitness and endurance, strength, and mobility, then make sure to keep reading until the end!

Remodeling the Fascia for Better Heart Health

Many Rev6 students are amazed at how they can complete activities that require aerobic endurance, such as hiking, with relative ease even without doing cardio beforehand.

That’s because Rev6 is chiefly focused on remodeling the fascia, which is intricately related to our cardiovascular system, to its healthiest state.

The fascia is a web of connective tissue surrounding our cells and muscles from head to toe. It separates and connects different muscle groups, giving our body integrity and structure.

Our blood vessels run through the framework of the fascia, allowing nutrients from the blood to reach our cells. A healthy fascia helps keep these blood vessels mobile, while unhealthy fascia may impinge on them, causing poor circulation.

Targeting the fascia around the spine and pelvic floor also helps with stimulating the vagus nerve, which not only regulates our heart’s involuntary movements but also improves our ability to sleep restfully.

While there are fascial release techniques in physical therapy, Rev6 is truly unique in empowering you to remodel your fascia yourself.

If you would like to experience the transformative effects of Rev6, here’s where you can begin:


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