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Cardiovascular Fitness Part 1: It's hard to deny the benefits

Excercise among seniors have many benefits on cadiovascular healthJust in the past couple of weeks, we have had in the news:

High-intensity exercise improves memory in seniors, researchers find

And…

Cardiac rehab after heart valve surgery tied to better outcomes.

These are just two examples that speak to the value and the importance of maintaining good cardiovascular health. But how do you achieve it?

Already this year, our Dr. Paradis has seen two mates on his hockey team take a break due to heart issues. A few years ago, another teammate had to stop playing altogether.

These are not seniors, but men who should still be considered young – late 30s, early 40s.

This should serve as a red flag for all men, of any age. (And women, too.)

Lacing up to go gangbusters on the ice for an hour when the rest of the week is spent sitting at a desk or on the couch is not the recipe for cardiovascular fitness. In fact, it heightens the risk of some sort of heart-related medical distress. It’s no different than the warnings that begin to appear this time of year about the risks of a heart attack while shoveling snow.

In either case, true heart health rests with what you do, on a consistent basis, in between those hockey games or those Ottawa snow falls.

Let’s consider some of the lifestyle issues that put you at risk and how to address them:

Stress

This is a big one with which a lot of people struggle. “Life stresses” take their toll, whether it’s over money, or relationships, or overwork on the job or in your business.

Stress (and the anxiety which it can breed) can lead to rapid heart rate (tachycardia) – this can elevate the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. It can also increase blood pressure – chronic hypertension can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure. Chronic stress can also lessen your chances of surviving an acute heart attack.

If you hit the ice or pick up a shovel in this condition, think about what that sudden added exertion is doing to your already over-taxed heart.

Your weight

We shouldn’t have to spend much time on this point – the issues that come with being overweight are well documented. It puts added stress on your heart and contributes to all those related risk factors – high blood pressure, onset of Type 2 Diabetes, and so on. It can also lead to poor sleep patterns by contributing to conditions like sleep apnea. Poor sleep is another contributor to hypertension and stress.

(On a related note, your eating habits of course always play a factor in heart health, but that’s another post).

Regular exercise

As we wrote last time, Canada’s national guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each week. Obviously, this should not be attempted in a single marathon burst. It’s consistent effort over time that yields the most benefit to your overall health.

In fact, vigorous exercise periods of more than 45 minutes each can actually elevate stress hormone levels. This, among other negative side effects, can drive your body into survival mode and resistant to burning fat.

Ideally, your weekly 150 minutes should be divided between three to five workout sessions (which of course can include your hockey and shovelling time).

How regular, and moderate, exercise helps

Let us count the ways in which this helps you: it will help lower stress levels, burn calories to help maintain a healthy body weight, and it will train the heart to be able to better handle intense bouts of physical activity.

In other words, consider this weightlifting for your heart, to make it a stronger and more resilient muscle.

Cardio also improves your blood cholesterol levels, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep. It also trains your lungs to have greater capacity.

Your heart health matters now

We often talk on this blog about the benefits of weight-training, for men and women, especially as we age. But we have also stressed the importance of a well-rounded fitness routine that includes cardio. If men as young as their late 30s are already having to bench themselves from Dr. Paradis’ hockey team due to heart issues, the reason for this should be clear.

If you don’t take care of your heart now, while you are still “young,” the consequences, which can be dreadful, won’t wait until you are “old” to catch up with you.

On the flipside, don’t let age stop you from making positive changes in your life – starting today. Just make sure to consult with your family doctor or specialist first if you already have, or suspect, a heart issue.

Next time, we will talk about intensity

Now that we have you thinking about this, the next thing to understand is the difference between moderate and vigorous activity. This is determined by your target heart rate, which changes as you age. We will talk about that next time.

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