By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
New data from the American Heart Association suggests that nearly half of Americans ages 18 and up suffer from some kind of cardiovascular disease. Experts suggest that you start fighting back today with heart-healthy exercise.
The heart is the strongest muscle in the human body. It weighs just 11 ounces and is just larger than a tennis ball. The heart beats 100,000 times a day to move your blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels. As it pumps, the heart sends blood to nearly 75 trillion cells throughout your body. But how does it work, how does exercise benefit the heart, and which exercises are the best?
Four Chambers, One Cardiac Cycle
Understanding the cardiac cycle is vital to improving heart health. First, the heart is at rest. During this time, blood flows to the two upper chambers of the heart, called the atria. Due to the buildup of blood pressure in each atrium, small valves open and blood is released into the ventricles–the two lower chambers of the heart.
Second, the brain tells the nervous system to send an electrical charge to your heart to make it contract. This action builds the blood pressure in the ventricles until they eject the blood forcefully from the heart. Then the heart relaxes, the valves close and the process begins again. “Incredibly, this all takes place in around 0.8 seconds,” Professor Dean Hodgkin, B.Sc., said. “Although 72 beats per minute is generally accepted as the average, it’s fair to say that fitter individuals tend to have pulses around 60. Elite athletes can even have pulses as low as 30.”
Why is that? The heart strengthens with each contraction. As it strengthens, the heart is able to pump more blood in one cardiac cycle. In turn, the heart can beat fewer times per minute to carry the same amount of blood. In the long term, this efficiency lowers the heart rate for people who exercise more. Overall, a lower heart rate means the heart is working less hard and is more likely to outlast a heart that must always pump more quickly.
Types of Cardiovascular Exercise
In order to keep yourself off the list of American adults who suffer from cardiovascular disease, experts have proven that four types of exercise can prove beneficial.
First, continuous training means working out at a constant intensity for a specific period of time. You can jog at a steady pace, ride a stationary bike, swim in one continuous stroke, walk on a track, and so on. The goal is to produce a stable level of required effort throughout the workout. “It also has the great benefit of allowing you to monitor your progress,” Professor Hodgkin said. “It’s a great way for beginners to moderate their intensity.”
Second, the Swedish founded a kind of exercise called fartlek training. “Fartlek” means “speed play” and focuses on short, fast bursts of exercise between average workout periods. This random method of physical fitness helps train several parts of your body in a short period of time.
Third, interval training suggests brief periods of moderate-level exercise alternating with longer low-level exercise. By switching back and forth like this, interval training emphasizes having a brief recovery period before and after any major physical exertion. “The whole point of interval training is that it allows you to do a considerable amount of high-intensity exercise, so accelerating your results,” Professor Hodgkin said.
Finally, crossfit training involves a calendar of different exercise regimens on different days. By switching between activities several times a week, your different muscle groups have a chance to take a day off. This helps avoid injuries like muscle strain that accompany frequent muscle use.
By performing regular cardio exercise, you increase your chance of living a longer and healthier life. Nearly half of Americans suffer from a cardiovascular illness–why be one of them?
Professor Dean Hodgkin contributed to this article. An international fitness expert, he has presented master classes and seminars to fitness instructors in more than 30 countries. A three-time World Karate Champion and a two-time European Karate Champion, Hodgkin earned a B.Sc. honors degree in Mathematics and Management Studies from the University of Portsmouth.