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Benefits of cardiorespiratory endurance exercise

Published:Tuesday | September 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMJennifer Ellison-Brown, Contributor

Cardiorespiratory endurance is the ability of the body to perform prolonged, large-muscle, dynamic exercise at moderate to high levels of intensity. This includes long walks, jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobic exercises, and dancing. A healthy cardiorespiratory system is essential to high levels of fitness and wellness.

The cardiorespiratory system consists of the heart, the blood vessels, and the respiratory system. It picks up and transports oxygen, nutrients, and other key substances to the organs and tissues that need them. It also picks up waste products and carries them to where they can be used or expelled.

Cardiorespiratory endurance exercises help the body to become more efficient and better able to cope with physical challenges. The following are the physiological adaptations and long-term benefits of regular endurance exercises:

- Improved cardiorespiratory functioning: At rest, a healthy cardiorespiratory system has little difficulty keeping pace with the body's need for oxygen, fuel, and waste removal. During exercise, however, the demands on the system increase dramatically as the metabolic rate goes up. The principal responses include increased cardiac output and blood pressure; increased ventilation (rate and depth of breathing); increased blood flow to active skeletal muscles and to the heart and constant or slightly increased blood flow to the brain; increased blood flow to the skin and increased sweating; decreased blood flow to the stomach, intestines, liver, and kidneys, resulting in reduced activity in the gastrointestinal tract and reduced urine output.

All of these changes help the body to respond to the challenge of exercise in the short term.

When performed regularly, endurance exercises also cause more permanent adaptations, which reduce the effort required to carry out everyday activities and make the body better able to respond to physical challenges.

- Improved cellular metabolism: Regular endurance exercises improve metabolism at the cellular level by increasing the number of capillaries in the muscles so that they can be supplied with more oxygen and nutrients and can more quickly eliminate waste products. Greater capillary density helps heal injuries and reduces muscle aches. Endurance exercise also trains the muscles to make the most of available oxygen and fuel so that they work efficiently. Exercise increases the size and the number of mitochondria in the muscle cell, thereby increasing the energy capacity of the cell and helping to conserve muscle energy by preventing glycogen depletion and increasing the muscle's ability to use lactic acid and fats as fuels.

Regular exercise also protects the cells from chemical damage.

It is believed that ageing and some chronic diseases are linked to cellular damage caused by free radicals. Training activates antioxidant enzymes that prevent free radical damage to cell structures.

- Reduced risks of chronic diseases: Regular endurance exercise lowers your risk of many chronic, disabling diseases such as cardiovascular diseases to include high blood pressure, diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels and obesity; coronary heart disease to include stroke, kidney failure, and blindness; cancer; type two diabetes; osteoporosis; and deaths from all causes.

- Better control of body fat: Too much body fat is linked to a variety of health problems. Healthy body composition can be difficult to achieve and maintain because a diet that contains all essential nutrients can be relatively high in calories, especially for someone who is sedentary. Excess calories are stored in the body as fat. Regular exercise increases daily calorie expenditure so that a healthy diet is less likely to lead to weight gain. Endurance exercises burn calories directly, and, if intense enough, continues to do so due to the rising resting metabolic rate for several hours following an exercise session.

- Improved immune function: Exercise can have either positive or negative effects on the immune system, the physiological processes that protect us from disease. Moderate endurance exercise boosts the immune function, whereas excessive training (overtraining) depresses it. Physically fit people get fewer colds and upper respiratory tract infections than people who are not fit.

- Improved psychological and emotional well-being: Most people who participate in regular endurance exercise experience social, psychological, and emotional benefits. Performing physical activities provides proof of skill mastery and self-control, thus enhancing self-image. Recreational sports provide the opportunity to socialise, have fun and to strive to excel. It lessens anxiety, depression, stress, anger, and hostility, thereby improving mood and boosting cardiovascular health. It also improves sleep.

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