Give the Body What It Needs: Muscle Changes with Cardio

June 30, 2014

Have you read the prior blogs about the amazing “inner work” that exercise does for the body, beyond what we may see or feel?

If you are ever tempted to say, “Exercise just is not working!” because the scale is not moving or your body does not look different, please think again of all the “behind the scenes work” of exercise in the body! Exercise can be one of the best gifts you can give yourself!

In this post we’ll focus on the muscle changes  that occur with aerobic or cardio exercise.

About 15  years ago when I was working in cardiac rehabilitation, we had several patients waiting for a heart transplant.  There is one patient I will NEVER forget.  She was about my age at the time, a mom as well, so I couldn’t help but identify with her a bit.  It was October and she was hoping to go trick or treating with her children.  She came in the week after Halloween completely discouraged.  She could not do it. She did not have the stamina to walk to even just a couple of houses with her kids.  A sad day for both of us.

However, she purchased a treadmill to use at home shortly after.  All that year she walked on the treadmill just as she did while in cardiac rehab, slowly and steadily, still waiting for a new heart. The next year came around, Halloween again.  No heart transplant yet. Guess what? Yep, exercise worked its magic! She was able to go trick or treating with her children!!  I still smile when I think of that day!

Wait a minute…. Her heart was giving out on her, she needed a new one.  How could she improve her fitness?

The body has an AMAZING way of getting stronger in any way it can.  So if one part of the system is not functioning well, other parts get stronger to accommodate it, IF and when it is challenged to do so.   Because this woman chose to challenge her cardiovascular system, she received the gift of being with her children for trick or treating.

This unforgettable patient story tells it all – her muscles made up for what her heart could not do, only because she gave her body the gift of exercise.

The cardiovascular system has three parts that help us improve stamina and energy.

  1. The lungs taking in oxygen
  2. The heart pumping and the blood vessels carrying the oxygen rich blood to the exercising muscles
  3. The muscles using the oxygen and nutrients they receive.

The muscles become very good at using oxygen and nutrients in three main ways:

  • Growing more small branches off blood vessels to send blood to more parts of the muscle
  • Making more mitochondria, the place in the muscle where energy is made, called the “powerhouse of the cells”
  • Producing more enzymes that help the muscles make energy to be used for movement.

You may have noticed this effect when your legs and arms are not as tired with exercise. You can now climb hills or stairs without shortness of breath. This does not happen with weight loss alone. This happens with the right amount of consistent challenge to the system to make it grow stronger.

What are you able to do now because you gave your body the gift of regular exercise?

I invite you to give your body the gift of exercise today and I’ll bet you will receive a gift in return.

Keep Moving, Be Well!


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Filed under Exercise and Movement Science, Inspiration

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