Type in to google: ‘ways to make the heart stronger/healthier’ and the number one hit is through exercise. After all, your heart is a muscle that can be strengthened. In fact, evidence suggests that long-term exercisers can expect to have larger hearts than their counterparts.
A bigger heart makes for a more efficient heart, as it is able to pump more blood with each beat. By improving your aerobic fitness, your resting heart rate will reduce, meaning less beats are required to maintain the blood flow throughout the body. Basically, a more efficient heart, a more efficient you.
But hang on a minute. Surely to get a stronger heart you need to eat healthily and not smoke? Well, yes, eating a varied and balanced diet certainly helps and not smoking is just smart right? Nonetheless, exercise is an easy way to protect yourself and your heart. Before you go on a hunt for your old Reeboks and plan to do sprints on the treadmill, you should find out which kind of exercises are best for you based on your target heart rate. You can calculate this once you have your maximum heart rate.
To estimate your maximum heart rate you can use the following formula;
208 – (0.7 x your age)
For example, a 35-year-olds maximal heart rate would be 184 bpm (beats per minute). Whereas, a 60-year-olds would be 166 bpm. With me so far? Read on clever clogs!
The American Heart Association generally recommends a target heart rate of moderate exercise intensity as 50% – 70% of your maximum heart rate and vigorous exercise as 70% – 85% of your maximum heart rate.
So, if we take our 35-year-old, during her moderate exercise she wants to get to a heart rate of around 92 bpm – 128 bpm. Whereas during her higher intensity training she wants to be getting up to 156 bpm. In this way, we are able to measure if we are working hard enough to strengthen our hearts. It also works as an indicator if we are working too hard!
How do we measure our heart rate while exercising?
Simple. Give yourself an excuse to buy a new fitness gadget such as a watch to track it (even though the reliability is sometimes disputed), grab on to the handles on the cardio machines in your gym to see your heart rate on screen (just make sure to use hand sanitiser afterwards!) or go old school and count your bpm by putting your fingers on your neck!
Based on your goals, age and fitness levels you should choose your exercise accordingly. If you are a seasoned exerciser, then play around with training zones and different intensities in your sessions. If you are new to exercise, as with everything, don’t run before you can walk. Ease yourself in by starting with some gentle cardiovascular exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling, gradually increasing the length of time. As your body adapts you will be able to add resistance and stay in a heart rate zone for longer than you did before.
I’m the biggest believer in the fact that a little exercise is better than no exercise. Aim for over 150 minutes per week of exercise to see and feel real health benefits. Think about it – that’s only two and a half hours per week or five thirty-minute sessions. The best bit about all this? You don’t need to work at your max heart rate to get those benefits. Just keep an eye on your bpm, watch yourself get fitter and feel smug. You’ve earned it.