There is something to be said for the simplicity of running. You grab some shoes and hit the road. You come back knowing you got a great cardio workout in and you feel good about it! But the same can be said for basketball. I have seldom finished a good game and not felt like I had worked as hard as I would have on any run through the park or on the track.
I always feel like the cardio workout I get playing basketball is second to none. It’s a healthy and exciting sport that removes you from some of the monotony of using a treadmill or elliptical at the gym. I don’t want to knock running in any way, shape or form. I love a good run that takes me to beautiful vistas and scenes in my neighborhood or a late night run on a warm spring or fall evening; you can’t beat that feeling. But those feelings are only second to the thrill off finishing a game and knowing you crushed it cardio wise.
Incase the thrill of the game wasn’t enough to convince you to try basketball as a cardio substitute, here are some other great reasons to make it a staple in your exercise schedule.
You Don't Have to be Good to Burn Calories
Some people believe that you have to be good at the sport to really get any sort of workout benefit from playing ball but that’s just not true. Whether your a NBA player or a newbie to the game playing the sport burns off calories like no ones business as long as you put in some real effort. Just standing there shooting around is not going to begin to compare to a solid running cardio workout. You have to get into it and preferably get a game of some sort going.
Grab some friends and make it a regular thing to hit the court for an hour to really work up a sweat.
Not Just About Running
Jumping and other quick movements also help increase your heart rate adding to basketballs cardio value. Compared to other activities that burn calories, basketball has the unique advantage of using a variety of movements that accompany the running to really boost the amount of work your heart, lungs and the rest of your body does. It’s one of those games that include great amounts of jumping, shuffling, and just straight up physical activity that gets the heart pumping and sweat pouring. Experts say that for every 50 lbs you weigh you burn 90 calories just casually playing 30 minutes of basketball. 
Builds Cardio Endurance
While basketball burns calories, it also builds muscle and cardiovascular endurance. From a young age up until your ready to hang up your basketball shoes, feeling the burn in your legs during a game can be a very good thing. It can mean that the muscle is not only getting stronger but over time will allow you to play longer and feel stronger. I love the burning in my legs and the tiredness in my arms that follow a hard-played game. I love it because I know that that burning feeling is a sign that I will be able to play longer and stronger next time. Playing the game today gives you the stamina to run longer and play harder tomorrow, which in turn allows you to build more stamina and you can play longer and harder the next game. A snowball effect starts to kick in.
In fact studies show that basketball players gain significant cardio benefits throughout the season. “Results suggest that players had significant decreases in body fat and significant improvements in anaerobic capacity during preseason.” 
Basketball Builds Leg Muscle
Basketball builds muscle almost everywhere on your body but the muscles that really reap huge rewards are the leg muscles. This new found leg muscle can then be used to win your next big race as well so runners can really gain an edge by diversifying the type of cardio they do. Between the slight pushing and shoving during box outs in the post to the full court passing; the game itself equally builds muscles in all parts of the body. After just one game you may start to feel slight soreness in your legs, core, and arms which may mean that you’re slowly starting to build up those muscles and becoming stronger.
Motivate You to Eat Better
A huge part of working out and trying to get in shape is not only the exercise work you do to the outside of your body but what you put into your body as well. With group sports comes group benefits. Encouraging others on your team and receiving encouragement from them to be healthier in every aspect of your life is inevitable. You build off each other and support each other to eat well, get the extra needed sleep and be in a healthy mental state. The same can be said for other traditional methods of cardio however this can be an additional outlet where you can make new friends to help you in your pursuit of excellence!
Basketball also makes you work up a sweat and may encourage you to drink more water. Water in general is a great tool to help cleanse your body of toxins and other junk that builds up over time.
Just like going for a run on a full stomach, you would feel pretty awful downing a greasy burger and fries only to then run out and play a hardy game of basketball. It wouldn’t be long before you’d be doubled over on the side lines. Knowing you have a game that day you prepare by maybe eating lighter, healthier foods so that junk isn’t sitting in your stomach come game time.
Develops Mental Strength and Problem Solving
Running for hours on a treadmill or stationary bike offers very little in terms of mental stimulation. Basketball can be a whole new kind of fun if your not used to planning out your next move, trying to outthink the competition and work together as a team while doing your regular cardio routine. As fun as running in place is, running with a purpose really has a way of keeping things interesting and keeping the players engaged. Working out a strategy to beat the other team uses all kinds of cognitive thought much like chess.
It's Great as a Group
It’ such a fun way to get a really good workout in with friends. Any type of cardio is better with friends but I would argue that it’s perhaps a bit easier to spend time as a group of friends playing basketball then some other group sports. The court is a space set aside to play on with a group and is a venue much easier to talk, banter and enjoy each others company on. It’s not so large an area that you have to yell to be heard at the other end but still large enough to have 10 players on at once with ample room to play.
A group mentality can keep you accountable. It’s super simple to skip a day here or a day there, but with friends they’ll make sure your there and working your hardest. If your not, they’ll be the first to lay into you about it.
In the End, It’s Just Plain Fun!
Basketball is one of the most enjoyable sports to play and even better with friends. The excitement of some other more stationary sources of cardio exercises pale in comparison to a sport that has you jumping, running, turning, dribbling and dunking. I find it ten times easier to play a long game of basketball and stay motivated and excited when compared to using my elliptical, which I do love by the way. It just lacks the same exhilaration.
Through personal experience and in talking to so many other players I have learned the fantastic impact a basketball induced cardio workout can be. It really is one of the greatest things about the game; its ability to make working out easier, more effective, and enjoyable. So next time you’re feeling tired of your cardio routine, grab some friends, hit the court and revitalize your life by choosing basketball as a cardio workout.