Looking after your heart is one of the most important fitness goals you can have.
This fist-sized organ drives your circulatory system, continuously pumping oxygenated blood through our body, and enabling all of our cells to function properly.
While we Aussies are generally a fit and energetic bunch, research suggests that we could be doing more to help our hearts stay healthy. According to the Australian Heart Foundation, 35.7 percent of 55-64 year olds, and 40.4 percent of 65-74 year olds in our country have either sedentary, or low levels of exercise. As we’ll see, keeping active plays a huge role in heart health.
The good news is that boosting your cardiovascular fitness isn’t complicated: in this article we’ll explore three simple ways that you can give your heart the love it needs.
Before we get started, a quick note. If you’ve had some time away from exercising, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your health care professional to ensure the regime you’re considering is safe and appropriate. This is especially important if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure.
Now, let’s get cracking.
1. Interval training
The beauty of interval training is that it’s easily adaptable to all levels of fitness.
Interval training is switching between quick bursts of vigorous exercise and periods of rest, or less intense activity. For top athletes, this might involve alternating between a flat-out sprint and a more measured running pace, but you can tailor it to suit what you’re comfortable with.
A perfectly valid pattern could involve walking as fast as you can for a minute or two, then reducing your speed to a leisurely tempo for the same length of time.
Research has shown that interval training at high intensities (also known as HIIT) can be better than moderate continuous exercise for improving heart rate variability (HVR) for physically inactive adults. The changes in pace can improve the heart’s muscular function - enhancing its ability to pump blood around the body.
The key with interval training is to start slowly, and give yourself good breaks between sessions. Again, your Health Care Professional can give advice on where you could begin.
If you’re wondering how you can improve your cardiovascular fitness while avoiding high impact exercises (eg. jogging), a dip in the local pool could be just the ticket. Not only is swimming gentle on your joints, but in Australia we have access to some wonderful outdoor and indoor places to log some laps!
You use nearly all of your muscles when you swim. Can you guess what that means? Your heart has to work hard to pump blood around your whole body! Additionally, you have the choice of different strokes to choose from, which mixes up your workout!
Yep, you read that right. Our last tip for improving your cardiovascular fitness involves cracking out your best disco moves and your favourite tunes.
Interesting research by scientists from the Western Sydney University and the University of Sydney tracked 48,000 patients with cardiovascular disease over the course of a decade, and found that those who took part in moderate-intensity dancing and walking had lower heart-related mortality rates.
They suggested that the results could be due to a combination of the bouts of high-intensity exercise dancers experience and also the psychosocial benefits of this activity.
One of the authors, Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, explained: “We should not underestimate the playful social interaction aspects of dancing which, when coupled with some more intense movement, can be a very powerful stress relief and heart health promoting pastime”.
So, there you have it. Jiving to AC/DC, a few lengths in the pool or some interval walking around your block mark a great starting point to improving your cardiovascular fitness. Just remember to take things slow to start, and find an exercise rhythm that suits you!