Endurance training does not just build up your muscle mass and strength, it also provides unquestionable health benefits improving the overall way your body looks, feels and performs. Irrespective of where you do your training – in an expensive gym with a personal trainer, at home in front of a TV, or with YouTube video guides and dumbbells in your hands, your body is sure to show some obvious improvements.
What is Endurance Training?
Endurance training is the act of exercising in a way that increases the body’s ability to withstand activity for extended periods of time. In general, this type of exercise training refers to any type of activity that trains the aerobic energy system as opposed to the anaerobic energy system.
Your aerobic energy system is what allows you to sustain exercise for longer than 2 minutes. It produces far more ATP (the primary molecule that you derive energy from) than the other energy systems. However, your body cannot use the aerobic energy system to fuel high-intensity exercise because it cannot produce energy quickly enough.
To sustain high-intensity exercise (the type that makes you lose control of your breathing), we must elicit the help of the anaerobic energy systems to fuel the activity. This provides us with a faster source of ATP, but it comes with a major downside: we cannot rely on anaerobic energy systems for longer than about 2 minutes.
In other words, after we’ve sustained high-intensity activity for a couple of minutes, we tend to hit a “wall” that prevents us from maintaining that intensity without resting or decreasing the intensity of the activity.
For example, think about how long you can sprint for. 15-30 seconds at max intensity, and perhaps a minute at about 80% intensity? After you have reached your limit for high-intensity exercise, you will spontaneously decrease your speed (intensity level) or just stop the activity all together. Your muscles will feel fatigued and overwhelmed with lactic acid, while you struggle to catch your breath.
On the other hand, think about what happens when you go for a jog or brisk walk. Your breathing rate may increase, and the activity may be a bit difficult at first, but once you find the right pace, you’ll feel like you can stay at that intensity level for much longer than a measly 1-2 minutes.
In general, any activity that you can sustain for longer than ~2 minutes will train your aerobic energy system which technically makes it a form of endurance training. In contrast, exercises that you cannot maintain at the same intensity for longer than ~2 minutes will predominantly be training your anaerobic energy systems.
You can combine both types of training (endurance and anaerobic) into one workout or keep them separate to get the benefits of both, but this is beyond the scope of this article. Let’s stay on track and take a closer look at the benefits of endurance training.
Health Benefits of Endurance Training: Anti-Aging, Heart Health, Muscular Endurance, and More
By exercising regularly, you can improve almost every aspect of your health, directly and indirectly. Not only will you have more energy and stamina for work, sports, and everyday activities, but your psychological wellbeing and heart health will benefit as well.
As you continue to train using proper technique, your muscle mass will increase, and you will notice a significant improvement in your balance and coordination. Not to mention, you will feel and see the obvious anti-aging effects that endurance training has on your body.
Builds Stronger Bones
As we grow older, our bone density decreases and weakens, and a seemingly harmless slip can turn into a severe fracture. However, with regular training and healthy diet changes, you can prevent this from happening. If osteoporosis is dominant in your family history, exercise is absolutely vital for bone health as well.
Regular exercise helps build strong bones similar to how lifting weights builds muscle. By placing slightly more load on your bones than usual, the body responds by strengthening them. Furthermore, as you train, growth hormone will be released into your bloodstream, which helps to bolster your bone density even more.
Have you ever read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography? He had a known bone deficiency, so he built up his muscle mass to help his bones grow and develop. Fortunately, we don’t have to train like a bodybuilder to experience these benefits. Something as simple as a brisk walk, a cardio exercise class, or jogging can help stimulate bone growth.
Enhances Cardiovascular Health
Endurance training also makes your heart more efficient at pumping blood with each beat. As your body adapts to your increased activity levels, your heart will get stronger and won’t need to work as hard to deliver fresh blood throughout your body.
Your overall blood circulation will also improve substantially as your blood vessels become less constricted and form new capillaries to optimize nutrient delivery.
Improves Mental Health and Sleep Quality
Because exercise increases blood circulation, it also delivers more oxygen and nutrition to your brain. This helps enhance your mental clarity and prevents those discouraging dips in mood throughout the day.
You’ll also notice that you feel less stressed in general and can better handle daily stressors. This is because exercise stimulates the release of stress-relieving endorphins and reduces our overall cortisol and adrenaline levels (two of our major stress hormones).
In turn, this will also help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep throughout the night, increase the quality of your slumber, and feel more refreshed in the morning. Simply put, regular exercise helps us feel and look better.
Bolsters Immune Response
No matter how strong you are, you can always fall defenseless against the multitude of viruses that attack our immune system by the thousands every year. Endurance training enhances your immune system by creating extra proteins necessary for the production of white blood cells and antibodies.
These anti-inflammatory effects of exercise are also evident for those with chronic inflammatory diseases and autoimmune conditions. Keep in mind, however, that over-exercising or pushing yourself too hard will actually cause the exact opposite immune system response, creating more inflammation.
As we grow older, the rate at which we burn energy (i.e., our metabolism) slows. As a result, our body burns fewer overall calories, making us more likely to gain belly fat.
One of the antidotes to this natural aging process is exercise training. By being more active and increasing your muscle mass, you’ll burn more calories and increase your metabolism. For every pound of lean muscle you gain, your body expends 70 calories more per day.
Benefits for Type 2 Diabetes: Better Blood Sugar Control
Preventing and controlling diabetes is also possible with endurance training because it improves the body’s insulin sensitivity.
Our bodies burn and store a significant amount of glucose in our muscles. By exercising and increasing your muscle mass, you’ll burn off the excess blood sugar and gain extra glucose storage. This will assist your body in keeping blood glucose at a healthy level.
Reap the Benefits of Muscular Endurance
Have you ever wondered why some people can walk or jog for ten or even twenty minutes straight without stopping while you have to take a break every few minutes? Fortunately, this isn’t the result of your genetics — It is primarily due to a trainable quality called “muscular endurance.”
Essentially, muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to work at a lower intensity for extended periods of time. As you continue endurance training, you’ll develop greater muscular endurance and reap its many benefits.
Not only will you be able to go on a brisk walk without feeling fatigued or experiencing muscle cramps, but the benefits will transfer to everything you do throughout the day. House chores, climbing stairs, doing yard work, and virtually any other everyday task will be easier, leaving you with more energy to do the things you love.
Putting It All Together – The Power of Adding Endurance Exercise to Your Life
By doing some form of endurance training a few times a week, you will be able to reap all the benefits we talked about throughout this post, such as:
- Increased stamina for everyday activities
- Improved balance and coordination
- Muscle growth stimulation
- Increased muscular endurance
- Consistent energy levels
- Osteoporosis prevention
- Improved bone density and strength
- Optimized immune system function
- Reduced insulin resistance and increased insulin sensitivity
- Boosted metabolism (via increased mass muscle)
- Better blood flow
- Improved mental health and sleep quality
- Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
- Enhanced cognitive function
- Accelerated health and weight loss results from dietary changes
What exactly do I mean by a few times a week? According to the CDC, adults need at least:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity endurance activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week.
- 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity endurance activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week.
- An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity endurance activity.
We recommend breaking this up into chunks that fit your lifestyle and current endurance levels. For example, if you are trying to fit endurance exercise into your schedule, simply add in a couple of 10-15 min brisk walks throughout the day whenever you can fit it in. From there, you can increase the intensity or the amount of time you exercise until you meet the recommendations above.
Also worth considering are exercise classes that incorporate weights, dancing, or other novel forms of movement. This can make increasing your aerobic activity levels more fun while you get the benefits of different forms of training.
Regardless of how you decide to fit your endurance activity in, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Many of us hit the treadmill because we want to burn off that extra fat more quickly. However, this is one of the least efficient ways to lose weight.
Instead, it is best to focus your efforts on following a diet that helps you maintain a calorie deficit if you are trying to lose fat. This will force your body to tap into its stored fat for energy, allowing you to lose weight much more quickly than if you tried to jog/walk it off.
In other words, your diet is the meat and veggies of your health and weight loss results, and endurance exercise is the sauce that adds an incredible boost to your health (but can never serve as a substitute for the whole meal).
The next step is simply to take the next step in creating your health-promoting lifestyle, whether it’s a small step like getting the right exercise gear or a giant leap like formulating the optimal diet for you.
Endurance Exercise on the Keto Diet
Endurance exercise and the keto diet go together wonderfully. Restricting carbs and calories forces you to burn more fat for fuel, which is exactly what you need to fuel endurance-type training.
Furthermore, by increasing your activity levels, you will encourage more fat and ketone burning, resulting in slightly more fat loss and higher ketone levels. This is a win-win for your exercise, weight loss, and health goals.
If you’d like to learn more about keto and exercise, we put together a comprehensive guide on the topic that you can find by clicking this link. This guide will help clear up most of the questions you may have about exercising while you are on the keto diet.