According to the NHS, heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, with one in five men and one in seven women dying of the illness. High cholesterol (which can block arteries) and high blood pressure (which can lead to an unhealthy heart) are among the causes of this tragedy.
Improving your diet to cut down on saturated fats and salt, etc. will help to reduce both of these risk factors, but cardio-vascular exercise will not only reduce blood pressure but will also strengthen the entire cv system, including the heart itself.
What is the cv system?
‘Cardio’ relates to the heart, while the term ‘vascular’ refers to the system of arteries, veins and capillaries that extend throughout the body. Other essential components of this system are the lungs.
The easiest way to visualise this system is as a pair of loops, one small, and one big. The small loop carries purple deoxygenated blood the small distance to the lungs, where it takes on board the oxygen necessary to power your muscles (and other body processes). The bright red, oxygen-rich blood then returns to the heart where the left ventricle, the heart’s power-cell, pushes it through the aorta valve and around the whole of the body through arteries and capillaries.
Once the oxygen has been used, the blood flows back to the heart via the veins and the system repeats itself.
Why exercise benefits the system
The heart is a muscle and, like all muscles, it responds to heavy exertion by growing in size. As the left ventricle becomes capable of pushing more blood around the system (stroke volume increases), the heart doesn’t need to pump so often to maintain the cardiac output necessary to keep the body ticking over. This is why people who exercise regularly tend to have a lower resting heart rate.
By the way, the enlarged heart you get from exercise is very different from the enlargement caused by high blood pressure. In the latter case, the right ventricle walls thicken to cope with the increased pressure, but since the size of the chamber doesn’t grow in proportion, the amount of blood entering is reduced. This causes the stroke volume to decrease and the heart rate to go up.
The lungs also contain intercostal muscle, and cv exercise will strengthen this, enabling your lungs to expand more fully and take in more oxygen. Again, this improves efficiency.
If these benefits weren’t enough, exercise also widens and tones the blood vessels, diluting cholesterol levels and reducing blood pressure. The formation of new capillaries is a third way in which cv efficiency is improved.
Working out your heart rate zone
To challenge your heart, you need to perform aerobic exercise at a certain intensity level, often given as 75% of your maximum heart rate. Rather than try and hit an exact figure, many people workout within a certain range, say 50-85% of their maximum heart rate. Only a doctor can give you an accurate figure for your maximum heart rate, but a rule of thumb (for adults) is to deduct your age from 226 bpm (for women) or 220 bpm (for men).
Therefore, to work out within a 50-85% heart-rate zone for a 26 year old woman, you would perform the following calculation:
226-26 = 200 bpm Maximum Heart Rate
200 x 0.5 = 100 bpm lower range
200 x 0.85 = 170 bpm
Using a heart rate monitor, you would then ensure that your heart rate stayed within the 100-170 bpm zone.
Street Fit® – the total body workout
Not only does a Street Fit® workout incorporate a specific cardio section, by exercising the muscles of both the upper and lower body, it will ensure that your heart will be sufficiently challenged to keep your cv system in good shape.
Please note that if you are concerned about the condition of your heart and how exercise will affect it, you need to talk to your doctor. This post is not written by a qualified medical practitioner and does not constitute medical advice.