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The Health of the Heart

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iStock_000006883392SmallBy Craig Cole
Bethany Village Exercise Physiologist

Cardiovascular health is of utmost importance in our society due to the increase in cardiovascular disease. In the United States each year, about one out of every four deaths is a result of heart disease. Cardio health is a priority within the realm of exercise. The heart, arteries, capillaries and veins constitute the cardiovascular system which focuses on how efficiently the heart circulates blood throughout the body. When we look at our aerobic health we call it Cardiorespiratory Fitness (the health of the heart and lungs). Right now, we will just be discussing the health of the heart which flows nearly 2000 gallons of blood each day!

We measure cardiovascular health by determining the amount of oxygen transported in the blood to the working muscles. This ability of the muscle to utilize oxygen efficiently and how well the heart pumps this blood (cardiac output) can determine our level of fitness. A deconditioned person will have a lower cardiac output than a conditioned person and aerobic exercise can change this.

With February being Heart Health Month, lets discuss safe and effective ways of developing or maintaining a healthier cardiovascular system. When it comes to the heart, a muscle we can’t readily see, one of the best ways to improve its health is to engage in regular exercise. Other ways to improve heart health is watching your diet and finding ways to reduce stress in your life. It takes patience and dedication to maintain a healthy heart. It’s important to note that having a healthier heart reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease or cardiac events such as stroke or heart attack.

From an exercise standpoint, the American College of Sports Medicine encompasses cardiovascular health with Cardiorespiratory Fitness in order to create safe and effective exercise prescriptions for those desiring a health lifestyle. The recommendations from ACSM for adults and older adults is that they should try to accumulate 30 minutes of moderate effort aerobic exercise most, if not all, days of the week. For those new to exercise, various levels of fitness can exist. This then doesn’t necessarily mean 30 minutes need to be completed in one session; it can be broken up into smaller sessions, 10 minutes for example, for those starting out. An exercise program therefore must be tailored to prevent injury from the outset giving a person’s body time to adapt. It’s not uncommon to begin an older adult with 3 minutes of aerobic activity to help them build from there. It’s important to increase the duration of an aerobic session before increasing the intensity of it. As an exercise professional, I always strive to be aware of variables such as prior activity levels, orthopedic and metabolic challenges, and a person’s psychosocial needs because these all play a role in developing a healthy cardiovascular system. Walking, riding a stationary bike or stepper, basic housework, using stairs and other forms of aerobic activity that are appropriate are recommended for heart health. As the heart grows stronger and more efficient, overall health can improve.

You might be asking yourself at this point, “Well, what are these benefits of aerobic exercise?” The benefits of a healthy heart are numerous because they tie into other areas of the body. Below is a small list of what can occur:

  • Improved blood and oxygen supply from the heart to the body
  • Improving the strength of the heart for more efficient contractions
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Risk reduction of certain types of metabolic (ex. Diabetes, High Cholesterol) and cardiac diseases
  • Improved muscle endurance and strength that can reduce the incidence of falls

In the Village Fitness Center at Bethany Village, Cardiorespiratory Fitness is a priority. Our participants develop a baseline aerobic fitness level. Some work to maintain a certain level of fitness to stay moving. Others wish to increase their aerobic intensities and one of the ways they do that is through out Circuit of Life class which currently consists of 74-95 year olds. In this class we work on aerobic, strength and balance based movements. The participants have noted an overall drop in their blood pressures, weight loss, greater joint range of motion, improved endurance and strength and some have even been able to be weaned off some blood pressure medications due to their efforts. Most of these changes are a direct result of improved heart health.

Finding the time to exercise should be a priority for just about everyone. Setting aside the time and being diligent in doing so will help keep your heart healthy and happy for a very long time. It’s important to discuss with your doctor any recommendations they have for you in the event you have any cardiac related challenges and you have desire or recommendation to be in an exercise program.


Written by Bethany Village

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