To Your Health
September, 2010 (Vol. 04, Issue 09)
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A Cardio Workout That Can't Be Beat

By Chelsea Cooper, MPA, CPT

Considering how important the heart is in moment-to-moment and lifelong health, it's amazing how many people ignore it, assuming it will stay strong and vital on its own. That lack of concern probably accounts for the rising rates of cardiovascular disease, particularly here in the United States. Your heart needs you as much as you need it, and the best way to keep it strong is by making it work hard on a consistent basis. In short, exercise makes the heart stronger; here's a great workout to do just that.

The heart is said to be the source of one's being, emotions and sensibilities, according to Webster's Dictionary, but at its basic level, the heart is also a muscle. And just like the rest of the muscles in our body, the more you work the heart muscle, the stronger and more effective it becomes. The heart has an amazing ability to adapt to exercise. Everything gets bigger; the size of the chambers, the thickness of the walls, etc.

The heart sits to the left of the middle of your chest and is about the size of your fist. Although we have many muscles throughout our body, the heart is a special muscle because it sends the blood throughout the body. Blood provides oxygen and vital nutrients to the brain, body and extremities, and transports oxygen-poor blood from the brain and extremities to the lungs to get oxygen. Valves inside the heart open and close, which controls how much blood enters or leaves the heart.

As you can tell, it is of utmost importance that we take care of this major muscle. Unfortunately, in the United States heart attacks are the leading cause of death. The root of the cause is arteriosclerosis (say that three times fast) - accumulation of plaque or "curd" (cholesterol, fatty deposits and other substances), on the inner lining of artery walls, which causes blood flow to the heart to decrease, and could cause an eventual heart attack. This is mostly caused by poor nutrition and inactivity.

Exercise Is Great for the Heart

cardio workout - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Studies continue to show that physical activity and avoiding high-fat foods are the two most successful means of building and maintaining a healthy heart. Walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling, skating, dancing and water aerobics are just a few examples of aerobic exercises that will help keep your heart strong. When exercising, the heart's job is to get more blood out to your body's hard-working muscles. During exercise, blood flow (as indicated by the number of times the heart beats) increases by about four or five times that of its resting heart beat, depending on the exercise you're doing.

A sedentary inactive lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. The good news is that you can do something about it. Regular exercise has a number of effects that benefit the heart and circulation, including improving cholesterol and lipid levels, reducing inflammation in the arteries, and helping to keep blood vessels flexible and open.

To achieve maximum benefits, you should gradually work up to an aerobic session lasting 20 to 30 minutes at least three to four times a week. Exercising every other day will help you keep a regular aerobic exercise schedule. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, it can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure at rest, and improve your breathing. Resistance (weight) training has also been associated with heart protection. It may offer a complementary benefit to aerobics by reducing cholesterol (particularly "bad" cholesterol) levels.

Try This Heart-Pumping Workout

The following exercise routine should be done carefully and correctly. I've outlined the routine below, followed by descriptions of each exercise. This routine is designed to get your heart pumping and stronger, and all your muscles working. It only takes about 20 minutes to complete, including warm-up, but trust me, you'll feel it and your heart will feel it (in a good way)! Make sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, particularly if you have a pre-existing health condition or have any questions about how to properly perform any of the exercises/motions.