You don’t need ‘cardio’ to have a healthy heart

Don\'t have an hour to spend on the treadmill? Plenty of other exercises will benefit your cardiovascular system. (Thinkstock)

Josef Brandenburg, special to

WASHINGTON – “But what do you do for ‘cardio?'”

It’s a question I get from doctors when I tell them I don’t incorporate traditional cardiovascular exercise in my workouts — yet still manage to maintain low blood pressure and a low resting heart rate.

I remind them that the heart does not actually need its own special exercises to be incredibly fit and healthy.

Think about when you do “cardio work,” by say, running on a treadmill. What you are really doing is working your muscles.

The increased muscular work demands more blood and oxygen. So the harder your muscles work, and the more muscles you work, the harder your heart and lungs work.

Your muscles run your heart, not the other way around. It really does not matter what you do with your muscles — if enough of them work hard enough you’re doing “cardio.”

There are many components to fitness: flexibility, strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, body composition and more. If we operated under the old school philosophy of training only one component at a time, most people end up only having the time to train one, and everything else would get neglected.

Here’s an example of how you can get your strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness training done at the same time:

  1. Do a lower body exercise — some version of a deadlift is almost always a great idea. Then take a minimal rest. This video provides you with instruction on this exercise.
  2. Do an upper body exercise. If we started with deadlifts, a push-up is a great pairing. Then, take minimal rest. Watch the video for more information on this exercise.


    Incorporate hip stretches in your exercise routine. (Courtesy Josef Brandenburg)

  3. Do a stretch. If you work at a desk, you should stretch your hip flexors every day. Consider this stretch your active recovery.

Here’s how this works: The deadlift works most of the muscles in your body, so it gets your heart rate up and high.

After the deadlift, the muscles on your backside are fatigued, so while they are recovering, it’s a good idea to do something with your upper body, such as a push-up.

This will still keep your heart rate high.

On the rest break, we can stand around and twiddle our thumbs, or we can do something useful like work on our hip mobility. Expanding flexibility in your hips can help you exercise better, feel better and age more gracefully.

So here’s to working out your heart, without strapping your schedule!

Editor’s Note: Josef Brandenburg is a D.C.area fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book “Results Fitness.” In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training program, which specializes in helping you get the body you want in the available time you have. You can also check out his blog, follow him on Twitter, or check out his fitness videos on YouTube.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

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