In the last two weeks, Sarah and Jo have encouraged us to get our bodies moving, in whatever ways feel good for us, and Colton has talked about creating inclusive spaces where we can get our moves on. Today, we’re going to discuss the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. It’s good for most people, and it can have specific benefits for LGBTQ+ people beyond a good workout.
The word “cardiovascular” means “pertaining to the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular.)”
And that’s one of the top reasons we’re told to do cardio:
Hearts are muscles that pump the blood that keeps our body tissues supplied with oxygen and nutrients. Heart disease affects the whole body and, in the USA, has been the leading cause of death for decades.¹ Cardiovascular exercise helps hearts become stronger and more efficient at what they do. It also helps keep blood vessels flexible and unclogged.
But there are plenty of other benefits of cardiovascular exercise:
Healthline has written a pretty good summary of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, although we have a few comments on some of them:
1. Improves cardiovascular health, (including lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol.)²
2. Lowers blood pressure
3. Helps regulate blood sugar
4. Reduces asthma symptoms
5. Reduces chronic pain
6. Aids sleep
7. Regulates weight
(Alert! Weight is affected by *so* many things, and your weight or body size and your health are not synonymous. Check out the HAES (Health At Every Size) Principles for a more holistic approach to being healthy.)
8. Strengthens immune system
9. Improves brain power
10. Boosts mood
11. Reduces risk of falls
12. Safe for most people, including kids
13. Affordable and accessible (here’s where I’m going to push back in detail!)
Accessible and Affordable?
I think most of us have an internal test of what things are accessible to us. Deciding if something is accessible may be as simple as answering the question “can I use this?” But for so many of us, the question we actually ask is “can I use this safely and without too much effort?”
What “safely” and “too much effort” entail are unique to each one of us, and may change day to day or hour to hour. However, there are some commonalities:
Can I be myself in this space?
Am I physically safe here?
Am I emotionally safe here?
Will the owners/staff/other clients treat me with respect?
Does the company have a willingness to work with bodies like mine?]
Can my body do this?
How might doing this impact my energy/strength tomorrow?
Can I get here?
Can I afford to be here (time, money, gear, all the things)?
We're Not Strangers Here to Stats
In fact, we’re rather fond of them. We’re especially fond of stats about LGBTQ+ populations, and particularly health stats for gender diverse and transgender people.
Individually, we’re all different. But if you look at gender diverse and transgender people as a group, we:
* Deal with minority stress. Many of us have multiple intersecting minority identities.
We’ve talked about minority stress before. It’s huge.
Here’s another term: social determinants of health. The things around us directly affect our health. Some of these affect everyone, like how much money we make, education, and where we live. Some disproportionally (and often negatively) affect marginalized communities and build on each other. Wages, housing, healthcare, racism, transphobia, homophobia, harassment, criminalization and legalized discrimination….it goes on and on.
As communities, we
- Have higher rates of chronic health conditions.
- Have higher rates of depression and anxiety.
- Have higher rates of substance use and abuse.
- Have more difficulty accessing appropriate and preventive health care.
- May have specific health risks, if taking hormones or other medications (see our blogs on cardiovascular risks and hormones)
- For individuals taking testosterone, recent studies seem to indicate that gender affirming testosterone use does not appear to significantly raise your cardiovascular disease risk, although individual labs/risk factors may change.
- For individuals taking estrogen and/or progesterone, overall cardiovascular disease risk may fall, but it is complicated. Risk differences appear to be related to the TYPE of hormones and the METHOD you take it.
If you’d like a well-organized presentation of some health status stats in transgender populations, The Center for American Progress lays it out nicely in their policy document.
All of these can interplay and build on each other. And they can all make exercising less accessible and harder to do.
The good news? Cardiovascular exercise can help mitigate some of the effects of minority stress.
How stressors (things that cause stress) play into it.
If you think about stress as anything that challenges the status quo, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Change can be very good, even if it is sometimes scary.
“Bad” stressors are things that can cause harm to the system they’re impacting. For people, examples of minority stress are bad stressors. “Good” stressors are things that can benefit the system. Good stressors could be the moment when a thing that has been holding you back turns into the reason for your determination. Good stress builds resilience and adaptability.
At a body system level, bad stress raises levels of chemicals in the body that, if repeated over time, can cause widespread inflammation and other negative impacts to health. That description is, of course, incredibly simplified.
Exercise – especially cardiovascular exercise – is good stress.
My favorite benefit of good stress?
You’ve heard of a runner’s high, right?
Here’s the fun part: you don’t have to run to get it, you just need to get your heart rate up for 20 minutes (give or take.) So many fun things get released in your brain when your body recognizes that there’s some good stress goin’ on: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, endocannabinoids (yep, you’re reading that right,) and other feel good chemicals.³
I’ll admit that
I’m no stranger to having a big body and I am not ashamed to say that this very particular phase of my life is when I have my biggest body and I am at my least active.
I have had times in my life where I have been bigger and active, smaller and active, and times when I have been just plain not active, regardless of my size.
It has never been easy for me to be very active.
I’ll be direct: I am not the most coordinated person on earth. I am known to joke with my sweeties that I do not know where my body is in space, sometimes to their detriment. I also have some health challenges that can make it harder to be (safely) active. And, well, sometimes I’m self-conscious about moving my body around in public.
But, I really love how my body feels when I can regularly go on very long bike rides, or how my body felt when I was training to walk a marathon (and for most of the marathon – after about mile 22, not so much!) And if I’m near a body of water? I’ll swim for hours if I can.
I don’t have to walk a marathon ever again – been there, done that – but, I could do things to improve my stamina and overall health right now. For me, it isn’t about weight, it’s about lowering my heart disease risk and enjoying being in my body.
I’ll also admit that
I love a little direct personal and political action, and especially queer trans gender-euphoric political action. We all have different relationships with our bodies, and sometimes our bodies are not our friends. There are certainly plenty of narratives that seek to separate us from experiencing joy in our bodies. The idea that 20 minutes of aerobic exercise can be a way to kick those narratives out of my house…has gotten me away from a screen and doing something physical more than once.
This call to action may not resonate with you, and that’s okay. What would your call to action – if you need one – be like?
Looping Back Again
All of this feel-good body positivity fight the power talk doesn’t help us much if we can’t move our bodies safely. So here are links to some of our favorite fitness, movement, and exercise people and resources who are also inclusive, and might have a take on moving your body that resonates with you:
Some of our Instagram Faves:
The Out Foundation Gym Locator
2. Wang, Y., Xu, D. Effects of aerobic exercise on lipids and lipoproteins. Lipids Health Dis 16, 132 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-017-0515-
3. Heijnen S, Hommel B, Kibele A, Colzato LS. Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise-A Review. Front Psychol. 2016;6:1890. Published 2016 Jan 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890
Nora has loved the intricacies and possibilities of words and bodies since their earliest memories, and is thrilled to be at QueerDoc, where they are constantly learning. Nora supports the QueerDoc ecosystem by writing and managing the blog, welcoming new patients in their free 15-minute introductory appointments and helping patients understand their insurance coverage in care navigation appointments, and by providing several administrative supports to the clinicians.
Nora is queer, nonbinary, neurodiverse, and disabled.