Fashionably fit? But are you forgetting something vital?
Taking care of our exterior will never go out of fashion, but exactly how we are taking care of it with nutrition and exercise changes with time, new information and with trends. If you are a modern man or woman it is generally considered considered healthy and attractive to have a fairly strong body, and thus have the muscle tone to show for it. No matter what body shapes or workout methods are on trend this month, year or this decade, there is something that I hope will never ever go out of fashion for both men and women and that is having a strong, functional body that let’s you live your life to the fullest.
While hours and hours are spent in gyms across the western world building booties, attacking backs, assaulting abs and toing thighs – hopefully for both function and feel-good factor, the least visible, however the most vital of muscles is often forgotten in the vanity race: The heart. Ranging the importance of exercising anatomical compounds, I’d range exercising the heart above exercising the skeletal muscle mass any day. The heart is your engine, and sure it may be replaceable with a transplant, but you’d rather it didn’t come to that, right? However, with patients we sometimes have to do strength training and hypertrophy training first in order to be able to exercise the heart and cardio vascular system in general at all. You need muscle strength in order to produce force and movement, and the more movement you produce the more the oxygen demand increases.
Exercising what you can’t see
How much do you think about your heart?
I guess most people don’t think about it too much. It is just there ticking away, right? The heart is a construction of smooth muscle cells that lies in your chest cavity. It’s main job is to pump blood saturated with oxygen to the whole body. It’s pumping rhythm, or heart beats, is controlled by the electrical signaling of a little node called the sinus node, in which ion channels again controls part of the node activity itself (these channels are funnily enough called the “funny channels”), and by the vagus nerve, along with sympathetic nerves. Because of this autonomic control of your heart beats you don’t really have to think about it either, but you need to think about it’s future.
I know, I know: premature death is not a very uplifting situation to think about. However, the fact is your body’s ability to take up and utilize oxygen is largely, some say mainly, limited by the stroke volume of your heart, which we measure indirectly as VO2max. Further, VO2max is a health predictor and the most important measure for cardio-respiratory fitness. Furthermore, VO2max it is a solid predictor for cardiovascular morbidity and premature cardiovascular mortality (1). Here comes the most important fact of them all: it is never to late or too soon to start exercising your heart to reap valuable health benefits.
We have now established that like any muscle the heart needs exercise, but is does not even need a lot of it, although the more the better up to a certain point it seems. I love the fact that strength training is “in fashion” and I hope it will be for ever, but I think it is easy to forget about the heart because we don’t think about the heart in our daily life and we don’t see it developing or deteriorating. It is easy to forget that the heart needs it’s own dedicated workouts. For heath benefits it does not have to be long or even that often. There are hundreds of ways to exercise your engine – the heart, but this time around I’d like to focus on how you can get maximal benefits for minimal amount of time. I’ll give you my most effective suggestions on how you can train your heart in the article coming on Wednesday, so be sure to subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss it. In the mean time have a think about the next paragraph…
Why do you do it?
This article is heavily influenced by my opinions and therefore it may be a bit generalizing, because I know a lot of you are already very active people indeed. If you are already doing high or moderate intensity endurance training, then great! Please, just have a think about “the why”. Why are you doing high intensity CrossFit wods, tabata, running intervalls, going to spinn class and so on. There is probably more than one reason, I hope.
Is it just to burn of calories? No problem, it is a highly effective method due to the energy cost per time. Just make sure you adhere to the training principles of recovery and variation as well.
Is it to perform in your sport? No problem, wishing it does not make it happen. You have to do the work that takes you closer to your goal and that may be increasing or maintaining your aerobic capacity.
Is it to experience the adrenaline and later endorphin rush: No problem, endurance training and exercise in general has positive effects on your mood. Just don’t let it become an addiction and be mindful of the rhythm between rest and exercise.
Because it is fun? This means you are probably boosting your sense of achievement. Good for you!
Is it to live a long, healthy and active life to the fullest: YES!
Reflecting a bit around about why you should exercise your heart, can add several dimensions and more meaning to your workouts. This may be important for your motivation to actually do them. If having a healthy heart at age 58 does not motivate enough you to exercise right now, then perhaps a more performance oriented training goal is the thing that will get you moving more several times per week? No matter the goal or motivation, you will get all the benefits from getting your heart rate up weekly.
And no: Running is not required!
I have said this hundreds of times to my students: From a health perspective, your heart does not ask you if you are running, jumping or dancing, as long as you get the heart rate up to a X intensity over X time and over time, you can expect Y and Z effects/benefits. So do the training for that speaks to you to in order to get your heart rate up, and in that way take care of your health. If performance training is your deal, then remember health is a prerequisite for performance of any kind – physical or cognitive. While the very elite performances in major events may not be exactly healthy, the athletes still need to stay healthy in order to complete all their training leading up to that crucial moment in their career.
Stay tuned for the maximal effect in minimal time-workouts on Wednesday!