Did you know you have over 600 different muscles in the body? There is no exact number since muscles can range as small as 1 millimeter to as big as several feet! Undoubtedly the most important muscle in the body is the one that keeps you alive, your heart!
Heart health is becoming an increasingly large issue due to the increased sedentary activities and unhealthy diets of our culture and the incidence of heart attack, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular disease has risen, making it the leading cause of death for all ages and sexes in our society. (Center for Disease Control 2012)
How do I know if I am at risk? People who are overweight and obese who carry the majority of their fat in the chest, “apple-shaped” are at an increased risk, the extra fat puts pressure on your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system) that can lead to high blood pressure, blood clots and abnormal heart rhythms that can eventually lead to heart attack.
Now the basics you’ve heard also contribute such as smoking, family history, sedentary lifestyle and also what you eat. Consuming a lot of saturated and trans fats, LDL cholesterol and such can lead to plaque build up in the arteries. This buildup could eventually close off the entire artery and cutting off the blood supply, as well a chunk of plaque could break off and become lodged in a smaller artery also cutting off the blood supply. This often occurs in the arteries that feed blood to the heart as well to the brain, leading to coronary artery disease and stroke respectively.
So how do I reduce my risk? Well stop smoking and start consuming a healthier diet, consisting of unsaturated fats, fruits, veggies, lean protein sources and reducing your intake of high fat, high salt and high sugar foods, especially processed foods. Exercise plays a very important role also, both cardiovascular exercise AND resistance training.
Cardiovascular exercise is just that, exercise for your cardiovascular system. This is what gets your heart pumping, makes you feel breathless and can help you burn fat. Intermittent bouts of cardiovascular exercise throughout your day (10-30 minutes several times a day, everyday), as well as a dedicated workout (30+ minutes, 2+ times a week) can greatly increase blood flow, strengthen your heart and help reduce plaque build up. There are many types of cardiovascular exercise you can engage in, walking, brisk walking, taking the stairs, jogging, running, cycling, spinning, dancing, Zumba, aerobics, swimming, playing. The list goes on and on, cardiovascular exercise is Aerobic and the primary muscle used is your heart.
As well resistance training can also greatly benefit your cardiovascular health, in the same way it’ll increase your heart rate to help deliver oxygen to the muscle groups you are utilizing for your training, however this level is not sustained as you are only performing the exercise for intermittent sets at a time. This is good however is it allows your heart to become more efficient and to direct blood flow to where it may be needed most at the moment. The more conditioned you become the more efficient your heart will be able to work, allowing you to go stronger for longer!
Exercise isn’t the only thing you can do for your heart health but certainly is one of the biggest influences, so this Valentines day make sure you focus on your heart just as much as another’s.
By Dirk Smith