You can improve your heart health by working out. Here are some of the specific benefits of exercising your heart and cardiorespiratory system.

It’s common to think about what being fit looks like on the outside of your body. The external changes that result from increased physical activity are often the greatest motivational factor that gets people moving. People want to see the results of their hard work on the scale and in the mirror. The thought of a slimmer waist or leaner legs will often get people off the couch and into the gym. However, what if I told you that the true beauty and benefits that fitness provides lie beneath the surface?

I have shared before that external changes resulting from living a healthy, active lifestyle happen slowly. Yet many changes that happen inside the body actually start to happen as soon as you begin an exercise routine. I believe that positive internal changes in the body far outweigh the changes that we see on the outside.

Cardio 101
Cardiorespiratory exercise (also known as “cardio”) is the term used to describe exercise that works your heart and circulatory system. This system has to work all day, every day, in order to keep us alive. I describe cardio exercise simply as movement that makes this system work harder. Exercises like running, cycling and swimming are all great examples of cardio exercises. In my opinion cardio should be renamed ‘heart strength training,’ because your heart is a muscle and exercise helps to improve your heart’s blood pumping capabilities.

Let me share with you a few of the great internal benefits that cardio exercise provides.

Lower Resting Heart Rate
Your heart has to work harder during exercise by pumping blood at a faster rate. As a result, it becomes increasingly efficient at pumping blood in general. This can make your everyday activities seem easier over time, because your heart has to work less to sustain them. You can often see this change in a reduced resting heart rate.

Weight Loss
When you increase your activity level with cardio exercise, your body has to burn extra fuel in order to meet this increased need for energy. Stored fat is the primary fuel source for prolonged cardio exercise. This increased energy expenditure, combined with a reduced calorie intake, can lead to significant weight loss.

Reduced Stress
Cardio exercise promotes the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. This function is often referred to as a ‘runner’s high,’ but playing tennis or even walking can contribute to this same feeling. Cardio exercise can often feel like meditation in motion. As you start to exercise and focus on what you are doing, your stress level may decrease. As a result, once you’re finished, although you may feel physically tired, you can feel mentally rejuvenated.

There are so many good reasons to add cardio into your current routine. The most important one is that it’s good for your heart.

Written by Samantha Clayton. AFAA, ISSA Senior Director, Worldwide Fitness Education at Herbalife.