Increasing your heart’s strength without rigorous cardiovascular activity
Your heart is a muscle, just like your biceps and pectorals, and, just like those muscles, your heart can be strengthened—though the ways of strengthening the heart are not necessarily accomplished with push-ups and curls. Good cardiovascular health can be accomplished many ways and can even be achieved with exercises and activities that don’t strain your heart or leave you gasping for air.
For exercise, try low impact cardiovascular activities such as walking, spinning or stepping; before you begin, it’s a good idea to know your target heart range so you can avoid hurting yourself. (Heart rate monitors are great self-monitoring devices but can be a bit expensive.) Max heart rate is calculated for men to be 220 minus your age; for women 226 less your age. This is your max heart-rate and you won’t want to be anywhere near it, which is why it’s important to learn. Most exercisers looking to lose weight will want to be anywhere from 65-85 percent of that max heart-rate. Fortunately, good heart health can be achieved through low impact workouts with heart rates much lower than that range; the recommendation for most people is between 50 and 75 percent. To begin, set your target heart rate goal at 50 percent, with a long term goal of reaching that 75 percent. Walking outdoors or on a treadmill is a great low impact exercise but make sure you’re not walking too slowly. Interval training helps build cardiovascular health and essentially works by adding intervallic changes to your workout such as hills or modifications in speed. Think of these intervals as the hear equivalent of adding more weight to the bar.
Yoga is another fantastic low impact workout for building cardiovascular health and while some of the positions such as crane or bird of paradise may seem daunting, yoga offers positions for every level and most instructors will be happy to work within your needs and abilities. Again, keep an eye on your heart rate, especially as the added heat in many yoga classes might increase your heart rate without your knowledge.
Exercise isn’t the only way to strengthen your heart and plenty of opportunities exist outside of the gym. A good diet is tantamount to good heart health; all the exercising in the world won’t matter if your diet is all fast-food and calorie-clogging desserts. Avoid processed foods like enriched flour and bleached rice. Instead, move your carbohydrates to whole grain foods like multi-grain pasta & bread and brown or wild rice. Next, make sure you up your intake of fruits and vegetables; the lessons your mother tried to impart on you as a child were sound, and fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of sugar and fiber that have been linked to weight loss as well.
Of course, diet refers to things other than eating and the next step might not be everyone’s favorite but will significantly affect your heart in a positive—if not the most positive—way: stop smoking and cut down on the alcohol intake. Cigarettes harden the walls of your veins and arteries, resulting in increased blood pressure and a higher risk of arteriosclerosis—the mortal enemies of good heart health. Alcohol can also lead to high blood pressure; if you have to drink, try to switch to red wine. The polyphenols in red wine, such as resveratrol, have been linked to decreasing blood pressure and strengthening blood vessels.
About the Author: Steven Madison’s work as a personal trainer has led him to study human heart models and the cardiovascular system in general. He believes a healthy heart is the key to a longer life.