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Exercise for a Healthy Heart: More Than Just Cardio

Posted Aug 19 2012 11:23pm

When most people think of exercising for a healthier heart, cardiovascular exercise  is typically what comes to mind. Indeed,  when cardiologists advise patients to exercise to prevent or manage heart disease, they typically prescribe some type of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, a minimum of 20-30 minutes three times per week. This is a shame because your heart would benefit as much if not more from higher-intensity, aerobic interval training combined with strength training 2-3 times per week as well as a daily stretching regimen.

Strength training, while it is anaerobic for the most part, can lower blood pressure. Unlike in the past, more recently cardiovascular researchers are recommending resistance training for patients after  heart attack, recognizing the importance of strength to heart health . The main caution with strength training is to avoid holding one’s breath when lifting a weight, which can raise blood pressure.

Stretching is perhaps the most  neglected component of a well-rounded fitness program yet flexibility of muscles, ligaments and tendons have been linked to flexibility of arteries. In fact a 2009 study found a correlation between trunk flexibility (as measured by a sit and reach test) and the flexibility of  subjects’ arterie s, especially in subjects 40 years and older. Apparently, stiffer arteries require the heart to work harder to pump the blood through them which can raise blood pressure. While only a small study found that a regular stretching program can increase arterial flexibility, a stiff body may be a predictor of heart disease at least in middle-aged individuals. So for all of you guys (yes, it’s mostly men) who leave at the end of my spinning class without stretching, you may not be doing your heart any favors.

If you have heart disease in your family history, have other risk factors for heart disease – or just want to prevent it -by all means exercise. But in addition to moderate-intensity cardio, be sure to add some high-intensity aerobic interval training, strength training and flexibility training. All can help strengthen your cardiovascular system in different, but important ways. Furthermore, a well-rounded fitness program also prevents boredom and burnout.

Be Well,


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