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Exercising With Your Heart
Government and numerous private studies have shown us that over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese. We are encouraged to exercise a minimum of thirty minutes a day at least five days a week just to maintain a healthy life style and current body proportions.
This article is about your heart and your health. Your heart is the most important muscle in your body! Each year 500,000 Americans die of heart disease and approximately half of them are women. As early as age 45, a man’s risk of heart disease begins to rise and related body results become paramount.
With that stated, it is very clear to me that my daily exercise routine certainly has to be highly efficient to get the most out of my time and efforts. For me, that routine is a combination of 40% muscle training and 60% cardio training for each daily workout. Simple “free weight” exercises cover my muscle training sessions while my cardio sessions are divided up with the treadmill, swimming, biking, and indoor cycle workouts. Cardio or cardiovascular exercise is any activity that involves the large muscles in the body, raises the heart rate, and is continuous and rhythmic.
For the past eleven years I have been an indoor cycle instructor and very involved with the understanding of how the human body best reacts to cardio workouts. Way too many times I have encountered people exercising at an “all out effort” whereby their hearts were racing, sweat gushing out from every pour of their body and total exhaustion the primary goal. This technique is completely wrong and inefficient. An efficient cardio workout is not complex at all and only requires an understanding of how your heart fits into your exercise workout sessions.
To begin this study you will need to have access to a heart rate monitor. It does not have to be an expensive model and usually the cheaper ones have a larger, digital read out that is very handy during your sessions. Prices will vary but I am sure that you can find a reliable heart rate monitor for as little as $25. Having and using a heart rate monitor allows you to measure exercise intensity independently of what activity is being performed by focusing on heart rate as the measure of exercise intensity.
Heart rate is measured by finding the pulse of the body. This pulse rate can be measured at any point on the body where the artery’s pulsation is transmitted to the surface by pressuring it with the index and middle fingers. We will need to know our heart rate at multiple times during our workouts and having a heart rate monitor makes this very easy to read. Heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time, typically expressed as beats per minute (BPM). Heart rate can vary as the body’s need to absorb oxygen and excrete carbon dioxide changes, such as during exercise or even sleep.
The primary goal of cardio training is to lower your resting heart rate. Your resting heart rate is the heart pumping the lowest amount of blood you need because you’re not exercising. The resting heart rate is a person’s heart rate when they are at rest, that is lying down but awake, and not having recently exerted themselves. The maximum heart rate is the highest heart rate an individual can safely achieve through exercise stress. Studies that I have done, point out that an individual’s maximum heart rate number generally does not change. For example, my maximum heart rate is 172 beats per minute. This is the number whereby as my exercise session increases in intensity, my heart rate begins to rise. As I approach 172 beats per minute, I begin to get out of breath and feel like I just cannot go any faster or harder. A person will not increase that particular number nor decrease that maximum heart rate number (disregarding sicknesses and drugs). It is your reference point which is used to establish exercise zones. Furthermore, exercising using these individual zones and understanding these zones results in highly efficient workout sessions and subsequently, results in actually lowering an individual’s resting heart rate. Having a lower resting heart rate simply means that your heart, the most important muscle in your body, is beating fewer times per minute. A second benefit of exercising knowing your heart rate zones, is that you will channel your workouts to maximize fat burning. Maximizing fat burning puts us right on the front line in the national battle against obesity. By exercising at sufficiently intense levels, you can overload your cardiovascular system. During rest, your body adapts to strengthen the cardiovascular system. Over time, your heart becomes more efficient at delivering the oxygen and fuel required by the muscles to maintain this higher level of performance.
To become more efficient as you train (maximize your training time and boost your physical results), you will first need to establish what your particular maximum heart rate is. There are a number of ways to do this. The best way is with a visit to a doctor who can perform very accurate tests to determine this key number. You can get really, really close to what that number is by using a step test, jogging in place or riding a stationary bike and recording the numbers of three or four “time trials” and then computing the average number as your maximum beats per minute for your particular training purposes. Please note that I do not encourage computing your maximum HR number using some formula based on age. After all, everyone is at a different level of fitness regardless of age.
Finally, use that maximum HR number (BPM) to create your exercise zones. A heart rate training zone is a range that defines the upper and lower limits of training intensities Compute your training zones as follows:
Zone One – (Warm up) — 50 – 60% of maximum HR: The easiest zone and probably the best zone for people just starting a fitness program. It can also be used as a warm up and cool down. This zone has been shown to help decrease body fat, blood pressure and cholesterol. It also decreases the risk of degenerative diseases and has a low risk of injury. 85% of calories burned in this zone are fats!
Zone Two – (Fat Burning) — 60 – 70% of maximum HR: This zone provides the same benefits as Zone One, but is more intense and burns more total calories. The percent of fat calories is still 85%.
Zone Three – (Endurance Training) — 70 – 80% of maximum HR: This training zone will improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system AND increase the size and strength of your heart. This is the preferred zone if you are training for an endurance event. More calories are burned with 50% from fat. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure and improve your breathing.
Zone Four or the Anaerobic Zone – (Performance Training) — 80 – 90% of maximum HR: Benefits of this zone include an improved VO2 maximum (the highest amount of oxygen one can consume during exercise) and thus an improved cardiorespiratory system, and a higher lactate tolerance ability which means your endurance will improve and you will be able to fight fatigue better. This is a high intensity zone burning more calories, 15 % from fat.
Anaerobic simply means “without oxygen”. In this zone, you are “out of breath” with a very fast heart beat. This is not a zone that you exercise or stay in too long. Start with fifteen or twenty seconds. Your target and more efficient exercise zone is zone three. This type of exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Aerobic exercise has the most benefits for your heart.
Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease your heart beats per minute and blood pressure and improve your breathing. Your body and cells are most efficient in this zone for producing energy. Producing energy burns fat. And that… is the bottom line. Exercise efficiently and exercise with your heart.
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