Sunday, February 3, 2008

Keeping Your Heart Healthy With Exercise

We all know the risk factors for developing heart disease, which include being male, being older than 35, smoking cigarettes, having high blood pressure, having high levels of certain blood fats, having a family history of cardiovascular disease and having a “Type A” personality. While some of these things are out of your control, you can reduce or eliminate several risk factors by following a healthy lifestyle.

If you smoke a pack of cigarettes each day, your heart attack risk is double that of someone who doesn’t smoke. In addition, if you have hypertension, eat a diet high in fats and don’t exercise, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is five times greater than normal. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you want to cut your heart disease risk, you need to live a healthier lifestyle.

Regular, aerobic exercise is critical to reducing your heart disease risk. Exercise stimulates new blood vessels to grow between impaired and normal or near-normal blood vessels. Even if you already have mild to moderate plaque buildup in your cardiac arteries, you’ll develop better blood flow to the heart by exercising. If you’ve suffered a heart attack in which part of your heart muscle was damaged, exercise will help build new blood vessels that can effectively bypass the damage area.

In fact, these new blood vessels can grow long before a heart attack and can prevent heart attack from even happening if they take over enough function from the narrowed vessels. Some studies have shown that moderate exercise done several times a week can more effectively build up these auxiliary pathways than can extremely vigorous exercise done twice as often. What this means, basically, is that moderate exercise done less often is more effective than vigorous exercise done more often.

One type of workout that has been found to be particularly good for the heart is what’s called “repeated segment” or “interval” workouts. These exercises typically include periods of more intense activity, followed by periods of easy effort or rest. For example, on the treadmill, you might jog for one minute at the top of your aerobic capacity, follow that with three minutes of walking at an easy pace and then repeat several times.

The results of regular interval workouts can be astonishing and include the following:

Greatly reduced risk of heart attack, if not elimination altogether

Enhanced heart function

Increased metabolism, which can lead to weight loss – another cardiovascular risk factor

Improved lung capacity, especially when paired with quitting smoking

Reduction or elimination of stress

When done properly, cardio interval training can help you create and maintain a healthy heart and body. For more instructions on specific workout plans, search online or consult a personal trainer or fitness professional. Monitoring your heart rate during these workouts is especially important since you’ll derive the most benefit from remaining in the aerobic zone, instead of working at an anaerobic level.

To get the maximum benefit from your repeated segment workouts, pair them with an improvement in your diet and reduce the amount you smoke – or quit altogether! By working on all of these areas simultaneously, you’ll develop a healthier heart, mind and body that will prevent illness and reduce your cardiovascular risks dramatically.

By: Sarah Russell

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