By HealthQuest Personal Trainer Adrian Kinsella
February is American Heart Month, named since 1964 to create awareness of a severe national health problem in this country: heart disease. Sadly, this crisis not only still on-going, but is actually more prevalent now than when Heart Month was first created. Heart disease is still the leading cause of premature death in the United States. However, it is also the most preventable. A healthy lifestyle is key to preserving proper heart health, and exercise is a huge component of this.
Cardio is often thought of simply as way to lose weight, and while it certainly can aid in weight loss its primary role is to maintain the health of our heart and lungs, our actual cardiovascular system. As such, everyone should do cardio, regardless if they are at their target weight already or not. Benefits for the cardiovascular system include reduced blood pressure, a lower resting heart rate, a more powerful heartbeat, and a quicker recovery to a normal heart rate after any bouts of exertion. For athletes and other more active individuals, cardio yields increased endurance, and improves the body’s ability to utilize a larger percentage of the oxygen we breathe in. This is known as our VO2Max. Cardio is also well known for the “runner’s high” which is caused by the release of endorphins (or “happy hormones”) into the bloodstream after a good session. This leads to an improved mood and a reduction in stress levels…both very important for the health of the heart in their own right.
Cardio ideally should be performed every day. That might sound like a tall order, but even a few minutes of walking a day can count as cardio. This can be achieved simply by parking further from a building, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It does all add up, and every little bit counts! Ideally however, we recommend:
- A half-hour a day of lower intensity cardio (50-70% max heart rate) at least 5 days a week.
- Shorter bursts of more strenuous cardio (70-80% max heart rate) at least 3 days a week.
- Athletes routinely exercise at levels well above 80% of their maximum rate, but untrained people should be cautious of exceeding 85-90%.
- Maximum heart rate can be *approximated* as 220 minus a person’s age, but this is not always 100% accurate especially for seniors. Err on the side of caution if you are unsure!
- Always remember that your hr max will be impacted by your age as well as your conditioning.
- Check with your doctor if you have any history of heart disease in your family or any limitations before starting an exercise program.
There are no lack of choices for where or how to do your cardio. Walking, running, swimming, biking, rowing, stair-climbing and more are all perfectly valid choices. Pick out something you like, get moving, and enjoy working up the sweat! Your heart is by far the most important muscle in your body, so take good care of it! For further information and assistance, please consult with our HealthQuest Fitness Center staff. We are here to help you!