Cardiovascular Fitness and Your Heart
In February, Americans observe Heart Month – a time when awareness has been raised of the leading cause of death in the United States – cardiovascular disease. While it's great that there is a whole month devoted to this topic, we need to treat heart disease throughout the year by knowing risk factors and taking appropriate measures to prevent it.
Most of us are familiar with the traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, poor diet, and low physical activity. What many fail to realize, however, is the crucial relationship between cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular fitness. Low cardiovascular fitness is a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, while high cardiovascular fitness, on the other hand, can have a beneficial effect on reducing cardiovascular risk in the long term.
Here we would like to explain what cardiovascular fitness is, what effects it has on cardiovascular health and how we can improve our cardiovascular fitness.
Understanding cardiovascular fitness:
In general, cardiovascular fitness (sometimes interchangeable with cardiovascular endurance or cardiorespiratory fitness) is the ability of the body's cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen-rich blood to working muscles with sustained physical activity.
When we breathe, oxygen gets into our lungs and then gets into our blood. After the blood has absorbed the oxygen, it is transferred to the heart, where the heart pumps the oxygenated blood around the body to our muscles and organs.
With high cardiovascular fitness, the heart muscle is strengthened and enlarged, and the blood vessels expand so that more oxygen-rich blood can be pumped through the body with each heartbeat. In other words, the easier it is to deliver blood to your organs, the less stressful it is on your heart, which is why improving cardiovascular fitness can improve cardiovascular health.
How to improve cardiovascular fitness:
By adopting lifestyle behaviors that primarily focus on optimizing cardiovascular fitness, you can mitigate much of the risks associated with cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this:
1. Regular and consistent aerobic exercise
Exercises that increase your oxygen uptake and heart rate, such as aerobic exercise, are most beneficial for your cardiovascular fitness. For physical activity to qualify as aerobic exercise, it must keep you moving.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA) physical activity recommendations, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes (or 2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. If the intensity is moderate, consider activities such as brisk walking, dancing, cycling, swimming, or tennis. For vigorous intensity, try running, hiking, jumping rope, or riding 10 mph or faster.
2. Weight management
In addition to exercising, it's important to understand that cardiovascular fitness can also be severely affected by various areas of wellbeing. When we consider that body mass is a factor that affects oxygen consumption, it makes sense to examine the relationship between body weight and cardiovascular fitness. This confirms that obese adults have significantly lower cardiorespiratory fitness, as extra weight can reduce the efficiency of blood flow. Hence, it is important to reduce body fat and maintain a healthy weight.
The most effective way to lose weight for better cardiovascular fitness is not through aerobics alone, but in conjunction with reducing caloric intake through a healthy diet and other lifestyle changes. Finding and sticking to a balanced weight loss program that suits your needs – such as leading to heart-healthy foods and activities that improve blood circulation – can help you maintain a healthy weight and increase your cardiovascular efficiency at the same time.
3. Assess your cardiorespiratory health
To continue to maintain good cardiovascular fitness and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, the AHA recommends taking your levels during regular clinical visits or exams. Healthcare professionals can do an exercise test to see how efficiently your heart is working during physical activity. You will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and electrocardiogram (EKG or EKG) while you are running or running on a treadmill. Based on your results, your doctor can identify various heart problems and recommend further tests and treatments.