Marta Montenegro: Your Heart - the Muscle That You Don’t See

It’s human nature to work out the body parts that you see every day. In the end, who doesn’t want to look at the mirror and look in shape? But even when you see yourself as fit, you may be still at high risk of having cardiovascular issues.

No matter how many miles you run or how many pounds you lift when squatting, a thorough study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that in healthy men and women 20-90 years old, women below the median VO2 peak (peak oxygen uptake) were five times more likely to have a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors compared to those in the highest range. Men who fell below peak oxygen uptake levels were eight times more likely to have the same risk factors.

“Even in people considered fit, VO2 peak was clearly associated with levels of conventional risk factors,” the study concludes.

Workout for the heart

Your peak oxygen uptake, or aerobic capacity, refers to the zone where your oxygen consumption plateaus or increases slightly regardless of the increases in the exercise intensity. So, to improve your maximum oxygen consumption you need to include the right exercises.

Better sweat!  

“People who changed from low to high activity during the observation period had substantially higher VO2 peak at follow-up compared with people whose activity remained low,” confirms an epidemiology study from Norway, published in the published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

A study conducted among cyclists in Denmark concluded that men with fast intensity cycling survived 5.3 years longer than men with slow cycling intensity. Women with the superior intensity survived 3.9 years longer.

Put it into practice: As you can notice, working out the cardiovascular system may require a little bit more than the conventional wisdom of 30 minutes moderate aerobic activity. The best way to improve your VO2 max is by incorporating high intensity intermittent training (HIIT). This is to alternate 30 seconds to 60 seconds of very high intensity interval (above your 85% HRM or like 8-9 in a scale of perceived of exertion from 1-10) with low to moderate periods to recovery.

For a person who likes the treadmill, the high-intensity interval can be done through increasing the speed or the inclination. Same thing can be done if you prefer the elliptical machine, alternate with some periods of heavy resistance. This type of training shouldn’t be done more than three times a week on non-consecutive days. Alternate this training with a low to moderately steady cardio sessions or weight training.

Grab the weights

When two different types of moderate intensity where compared: 1. Lifting weights (8 exercises, 3 sets of 10 reps) and 30 minutes of cycling, the blood vessel response was different. Resistance exercise seems to increase the blood flow to the legs while aerobic training may decrease the arterial stiffness. And most interesting was the fact that resistance training provided a longer drop in blood pressure after exercise compared to aerobic forms.

Put it into practice: The best way to do strength training for your heart is circuit training. Compared to the traditional straight sets, doing 8 to 10 exercises one after another with little or no rest in between elicited a strong cardiovascular benefit.

If you are new on circuit training or want to take it further, try out this workout.

Say goodbye to a sick heart

If you have cardiovascular issues and are ready to workout after getting clearance from your doctor, follow these tips:

a)    Do cardio after lifting weights.

b)    Do mix upper and lower body exercises when lifting weights.

c)    Do not hold your breath when lifting weights.

d)    Do not hold so hard your grip when lifting weights. This can create a rapid and undesirable blood pressure response.

e)    If you take some drugs, it’s better to monitor the intensity rather than using a heart rate monitor.

f)     You can still incorporate and benefit from high-intensity intermittent training, just be sure that your doctor approves.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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