Get Moving!

Work out the body’s most important muscle—the heart
By Cara Lucas

It’s an epidemic, folks, and the media is calling it “sedentary death syndrome.” According to the US Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies, the prescription is physical activity.

Being physically active is an important component of good health and longevity at any age, but it’s especially important to form a habit of daily activity while still young. Currently 40 percent of high-school girls and 27 percent of boys don’t get enough physical activity to protect their health.

A recent study published in the journal Circulation found that maintaining a healthy lifestyle from young adulthood into your 40s is strongly associated with low cardiovascular disease risk in middle age. The study even proved that people could reverse their genetic predisposition: people with a family history of heart problems that practiced a healthy lifestyle when young achieved a low cardiovascular risk profile as middle-aged adults.

According to many medical professionals, as you age it becomes more difficult to establish healthy cardiovascular factors. Many middle-aged adults develop unhealthy diets, gain weight, have added stress, and aren’t as physically active. Such lifestyles, of course, lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, stress, diabetes, and, ultimately, elevated cardiovascular risk.

So, how do you get started on the right path while young? Simple. Get moving!

The heart is a muscle—just like all muscles, if you exercise it regularly, it becomes stronger. A strong, healthy heart is a very important factor in preventing disease. It is the only muscle that can save your life, after all.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that youth get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day to build a strong heart. The question up for debate is which type of exercise is best? How do today’s hottest rogue workout programs like CrossFit, P90X, and Primal Blueprint, stack up against a good old-fashioned run? The answer might not be as clear as you think.

Method 1: Cardiovascular Training

When you think of improving your heart health, you probably think of cardio exercise, right? Its name even implies it. This type of workout utilizes the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, which work together to supply oxygen and nutrients to all of your vital organs. The National Institute of Health says that the best way to reduce heart disease is to do some form of aerobic activity for 30 minutes on most days of the week.

Example workout: Brisk walking (three to four miles per hour) is an easy way to help keep your heart healthy. One study showed that regular brisk walking reduced the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous exercise, such as jogging. Hiking, biking, dancing, or swimming can all fit into this category.

You can break it up into ten-minute mini-workouts, as well. You don’t have to do it all at once—what matters is that you log that time at some point during the day.

Method 2: High-Intensity Interval Training

Other experts favor performing anaerobic exercises in short bursts of high intensity followed by short bursts of low intensity. For a short period of time, your heart works much harder than it could over an even-paced sustained time like a 30-minute run. This type of exercise will increase calorie burn and also keep your metabolism high many hours after you stop exercising. It also cuts down on workout time because you don’t have to exercise as long to achieve the same, or even better, results.

Example workout: try sprinting for a certain distance, then gently jogging to allow your heart to slow down, and then sprinting again. If you are inside, put the treadmill on the highest incline, walk at that incline for one minute, then decrease to a setting where you can jog for two minutes. Do this for 20 to 30 minutes.

Method 3: Circuit/Resistance Training

Other research suggests that cardio exercise alone may not be the best method to achieve a healthy heart because it doesn’t allow you to build proper muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more fat you burn—even long after you are finished working out. This results in the heart not having to work so hard to support your weight.

This is where resistance and circuit training exercises factor in. During a circuit training workout, you move from one exercise to another to another without stopping. The exercises could be on weight machines or simple body resistance moves like pushups. This way you maintain a consistent high heart rate, but you also exercise most of the muscles in your body at the same time—this increases muscle mass and burns more fat than the traditional 30 minutes of steady-paced cardio.

Example workout: try a set of pushups, then a set of squats, then a set of triceps dips, then a set of lunges and so on. Repeat.

As you can see, not everybody agrees on the best way to maintain a healthy heart, and there are many options to choose from. It comes down to performing the type of exercise you enjoy the most—the more fun you have doing it, the longer you are likely to keep doing it. Programs such as CrossFit, Primal Blueprint, and P90X are challenging (and some say fun!) ways to build a strong heart even after you stop moving, and they steer you away from focusing only on the “30- minute-run-and-done” theory.

The type of exercise you do is up to you, but a combination of part resistance training to maintain muscle mass and part aerobic exercise to get your heart working harder is probably the best. Keep in mind anything from gardening to dancing is better than no exercise at all.

*Talk to your doctor before you start any new workout plan, especially with weights. If you are new to this type of workout, you may want to consult a certified trainer first.