Exercise and Cardiovascular Health

Everyone knows that exercising is one of most powerful things you can do to improve your health. Regular cardiovascular exercise makes your heart stronger and more efficient, burns calories, lowers your blood pressure and helps keep you mentally sharp. However, it is important to exercise properly to get optimum results and help you achieve your goals. With today's busy schedules, no one has time to waste on ineffective or inefficient exercise.

Performing cardiovascular work at the correct level of intensity is essential. Exercise too hard and you risk injury and exhaustion or you may burn out and stop exercising altogether. On the other hand, if you don't work out hard enough, you may not get the results you want. One way to measure intensity is to watch your heart rate as you exercise.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, your predicted maximum heart rate can be estimated by subtracting your age from 220. This is the maximum number of times your heart can beat in a minute. Then multiply that number by .55 and by .9 to find the range that is your heart rate training zone. For example, if you are 35 years old, you have a predicted maximum heart rate of 185 beats per minute (220-35 = 185). Your lower limit is 102 beats per minute (.55 x 185), and your upper limit in the zone is 166 (.9 x 185).

Another method for calculating your training zone is known as the Karvonen method. This method takes into account your resting heart rate as well as your age predicted maximum heart rate. In the above example, the same 35 year old, with a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute, using the Karvonen method would have lower limit of 133 beats per minute and an upper limit of 173. Since the Karvonen method takes into account the heart rate range between resting and maximum, it is often preferred by health care providers. It is important to remember however, that in order to use this equation, we must have information about the resting heart rate.

"Working in the appropriate training zone makes it easier to exercise for a sufficient period of time and to continue with an effective exercise program for weight loss or cardiovascular fitness," said James Skinner, Ph.D., Indiana University, and a member of the Life Fitness Academy Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. If you have a very low level of fitness or haven't exercised in a long time, 55 percent may be an effective place to begin your workouts, but a more conditioned person should work closer to 70 to 85 percent of his/her maximum heart rate. Depending on individual goals, most people who typically follow a regular exercise program should sustain at least 70 to 80 percent of their maximum heart rate for 20 to 60 minutes.

There are several ways to monitor your heart rate, including manually checking your pulse, and through using a variety of equipment, such as a heart rate monitor or hand sensors on fitness equipment. Checking your pulse can be done by using the first two fingers of one hand to apply light pressure at the carotid artery on the neck or the radial artery in the wrist. Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six to get your heart rate for one minute.

Most heart rate monitors, include a chest strap and a wristwatch type receiver. The strap picks up your heart rate and the receiver displays the result, making it an accurate and convenient way to measure your heart rate.

Finally, equipment manufacturers typically offer features on their equipment that measure your heart rate as well. Some allow you to wear your heart rate monitoring strap and the machine's console will display your heart rate (just like your wrist receiver would). Also, some equipment offers hand sensors that you can grip and the machine will measure your heart rate and transmit the reading to the console.

Once your heart rate is determined, it is up to you to adjust your workout to keep your heart rate in your target zone. If your heart rate is too low, you may need to jog or pedal faster, for instance. If it is too high, you may want to slow down a bit.

Another method that can be used in conjunction with taking your pulse is the Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a subjective method that allows you to rate how hard you feel you're working. The original RPE scale developed by Borg used values ranging from 6 - 20 to indicate how hard the exerciser feels they are working. These numbers correspond to very very light at an RPE of 6 to very very hard at an RPE of 20. Since the establishment of the original RPE Scale by Borg, many exercisers have begun to use the revised RPE Scale, which ranks exercise intensity from 1 - 10. The RPE scale has been found to be highly correlated to monitoring exercise intensity using target heart rate. This method is also very effective for individuals on medication that can affect heart rate.

A strong and healthy heart pumps more blood with each contraction and is working efficiently. Therefore, it does not have to contract as often. This increased efficiency results in a lower resting heart rate, and a greater work capacity - which are signs of enhanced fitness.

"Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of any consistent exercise routine if you want to improve your overall health, fitness and longevity," says Paul Thompson, M.D., director of the Preventive Cardiology Program at Hartford Hospital, Hartford, Conn. "Building a stronger heart is the best life insurance there is."

When beginning any exercise program, it is important to first consult your physician. For assistance in developing a program that will help you exercise safely and ultimately achieve your fitness goals, the personal fitness trainers in your club can help create a program that specifically meets your needs...

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