By Mark Kingsriter, Fitness Director, Wellbeats | HR Management & Compliance
Can jogging save a life? Maybe not all by itself, but running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise play an important role in improving overall quality of life and warding off some of the most common causes of death and disability in the United States.
Consider that heart disease accounts for about a quarter of deaths each year in this country or that 745,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, and the bike ride you’ve been putting off might sound a lot more appealing. In fact, physical activity is the best way to prevent heart disease and stroke—the No. 1 and No. 5 killers in the country, respectively.
As employers continue to emphasize employee health and well-being, cardiovascular health is a natural focus. Heart-related health problems contribute to significant expense for employers. By 2030, annual direct medical costs associated with cardiovascular disease will reach an estimated $818 billion for employers.
Expanding cardiovascular capacity does more than just ward off a heart attack, too. It helps people do the other things they love longer, whether that’s hiking or gardening or chasing their kids around the yard. By the same logic, employees with healthy hearts will be able to work longer and harder. That’s important considering lost productivity related to poor heart health is expected to cost employers more than $275 billion by 2030.
Cardiovascular exercise can help, but what qualifies as effective cardio? Typically, it’s the usual suspects, like jogging or a brisk bike ride or any other activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you breathe hard.
Cardio workouts are a popular fitness option because they typically don’t require special equipment and because even a moderate cardio workout makes participants feel like they’ve accomplished something. Activities that get you sweating and breathing hard feel like productive exercise in ways that weight training and other workouts sometimes don’t.
February is American Heart Month, making this the perfect time to encourage employees to pursue their heart-healthy goals. Here are a few tips to help get them started.
1. Find something you love.
People are far more likely to stick with an activity they enjoy. Like biking? Then start working toward longer and faster rides. If the thought of sitting on a narrow bike seat makes your rear end ache, maybe running, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or circuit classes are more your speed. If you’re not sure what will work for you, on-demand virtual fitness may be an appealing option. A good virtual fitness platform will have a variety of classes you can try. Explore REV cycling, circuit training, kickboxing, and more until you find something you love.
2. Set a schedule.
Cardiovascular exercise is valuable all on its own, but it’s better as part of a balanced exercise routine that includes strength training, stretching, and mind/body exercises. Help employees find a schedule that works and encourage them to stick to it.
On-demand virtual fitness can help here, too. By giving users the freedom to work out when and where they want, on-demand fitness makes it simple to fit classes into your day. The flexibility of on-demand classes also opens the door to classes that don’t fit a traditional gym schedule, with some providing impactful workouts in just 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get that heart rate up. You can even find classes that are designed to be completed at your desk.
Virtual fitness also provides opportunities for quick fitness breaks that encourage employees to get away from their desk or workstation and move. You don’t have to set up a gym in the office. You just need a spare room, a screen, and an Internet connection to hold a quick circuit-training class.
3. Build a base.
Getting into the habit of cardiovascular activity can be challenging for people who have been inactive for a while. Help these employees embrace the feeling of being uncomfortable and help them understand that their discomfort is preparing them for something better. You might not see physical differences right away, but you’ll notice within 2 or 3 weeks that you’re able to hang in a bit longer.
4. Push yourself.
Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond once said that cycling never gets easier; you just go faster. The same is true of pretty much any cardiovascular exercise. Once you notice your fitness improving, it’s time to start pushing yourself to go farther or faster. Here again, good virtual, on-demand fitness can help. The right service will offer classes that include a natural progression from beginner to expert so participants can continue challenging themselves as their fitness improves.
Heart health is a serious issue in the United States. An estimated 78 million American adults have high blood pressure, and there is a death every 40 seconds due to cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular exercise is a key to improving those numbers. As part of a balanced fitness program, 2.5 hours of cardio per week will help you improve your health and expand the possibilities for what you can do with your daily life.
There’s no better time to lace up those shoes and get moving.
Mark Kingsriter is Fitness Director for Wellbeats, a content and software-as-a-service company that delivers on-demand virtual fitness programming for corporate wellness programs.