The benefits of cardiovascular exercise

By: Michelle Murdolo, MS, RD, CDN

You may hear your doctor tell you to “get your heart rate up.” What that means is cardiovascular exercise. The reason they tell you this is that cardiovascular exercise, or cardio as it’s often called, benefits your heart! Cardio is any exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period and works large muscle groups. Not only will your heart reap the benefits, but the rest of your body will as well. Research suggests having a cardio routine in place can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Cardio can help to decrease both your resting blood pressure and resting heart rate, which means that your heart does not need to work as hard at rest. Exercising your heart helps to strengthen it and allow it to pump blood more efficiently through the rest of the body. Cardio can also help to lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raise “good” cholesterol (HDL).

In addition, cardio improves cognitive health. Research suggests that it can help improve memory, learning and thinking. It may also help prevent cognitive decline with age and protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Cardio may also help increase blood flow which can help decrease risk of having a stroke.

Other benefits of cardio exercise include:

  • Lowering blood sugar and improving insulin resistance
  • Decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety and slowing breakdown of brain cells
  • Improving quality of sleep
  • Improving breathing and reducing symptoms of asthma
  • Strengthening immune system
  • Reducing chronic pain
  • Regulating weight

What is the recommendation?

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. Try starting out with 30-minute sessions five days per week if you’re experienced with exercise. If you’re new to exercise, don’t feel pressured to reach 30 minutes daily right away. Start with smaller goals and increase as your endurance increases!

It’s never too late to start! Find a routine that best fits your lifestyle. There are many ways you can incorporate cardio. Try walking, running, bike riding, dancing, swimming, or anything that gets your heart pumping. If you are starting an exercise routine for the first time begin slow and build up. Any amount of cardio is better than none!


  1. Benefits of a Cardio Workout – Cleveland Clinic
  2. 13 Benefits of Aerobic Exercise: Why Cardio Fitness Is Important (
  3. Cardio Exercise: Good for More Than Your Heart (

Michelle Murdolo, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who guides patients through their bariatric surgery and weight management journey. She comes from a background of eating disorders and disordered eating and emphasizes body positivity and health.