The cardiovascular system has three main components: the heart, the blood vessel and the blood itself. The adult heart beats about 70 to 80 times in a minute, when at rest. The major function of the heart is to pump blood and distribute oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Hence, the heart is considered one of the most important organs of the body such that any little dysfunction or abnormality may cause drastic changes or effects in the body.
The heart is a muscular organ and it gets stronger and healthier if one lives an active life. A sedentary lifestyle (that is, where one’s job and leisure activities involve little or no physical activity) increases the risk of having heart disease. Exercise makes the heart stronger as it pumps more blood with each heartbeat, thereby, delivering more oxygen to the body. With more oxygen in circulation, the body functions more efficiently. Exercising also improves blood flow in the small blood vessels (arteries) around the heart. Clogs/blockage in these arteries can lead to heart attacks.
According to exercise physiologists, aerobic exercise and resistance training are the most important exercises for heart health.
This is also known as “cardio exercise”. During aerobic exercise, oxygenated blood is pumped by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles. It improves circulation, which results in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Aerobic exercise also reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and helps to control blood glucose levels. Aerobic exercise not only improves fitness, but also benefits both physical and emotional health. Also, aerobic exercise can help prevent or reduce the chance of developing some cancers, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis.
Examples of aerobic exercise include;
- Brisk walking
- Playing tennis
Note: Aerobic exercises can become anaerobic exercises if performed at a level of intensity that is too high. Anaerobic (“without oxygen”) exercise such as sprinting or lifting a heavy weight, causes you to be quickly out of breath.
Balance and resistance training is a key part of any well-balanced exercise regimen. Resistance training is a form of exercise that involves making the muscles work against a weight or force, such as, free weights, resistance bands, weight machines or even your own body weight. As one gets older, strength and muscle mass begin to decline. Studies reveal that the average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of his or her muscle strength by age 70 and half of it by age 90. Resistance training helps to build up muscle mass, thereby, increasing one’s strength and stamina. This type of exercise also helps the joints to be stronger and more flexible.
According to recent research, exercises that build strength can benefit the heart much more than aerobic activities, such as walking or cycling. However, adequate amount of either kind of exercise brings benefits so it is probably better to do both than to increase either.