Heart Health

cardiovascular system

The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. The importance of maintaining a healthy heart through proper nutrition, physical activity and rest and relaxation cannot be overstated.

In reality, maintaining a healthy heart is really quite simple. However, with today's hectic lifestyles and poor dietary regimes, it has become increasingly difficult to accomplish this task.

Most individuals understand that they need to regularly perform some form of physical activity and consume healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein products. However, what many individuals actually consume are foods that are highly processed, nutrient-deficient and high in fat.

Add to this the fact that most individuals do not exercise on a regular basis, and you have an average human body that is likely to house excess fat, have a weakened immune system, and be susceptible to a whole host of degenerative diseases.

While a healthy and nutritious diet is imperative to maintaining a healthy heart, regular exercise is equally important. The heart is actually a muscle and, in fact, is the most dense muscle in the human body. This being said, the heart must be stressed through physical activity like any other muscle on the human body if it is to maintain optimum functionality and performance. One of the most beneficial forms of physical activity for the heart is aerobic and cardiovascular exercise.

The word "aerobic" is defined as "with oxygen". When performing a cardiovascular exercise, it is important to achieve an aerobic effect. An individual achieves an aerobic effect when they elevate their heart rate to at least their target heart rate and maintain that level for a minimum of 20 consecutive minutes. Performing exercises that achieve an aerobic effect strengthen the heart, promote improved blood flow, and provide nutrients and oxygen to soft tissue while flushing toxins.

Target Heart Rate

To determine your personal maximum heart rate (100%), simply subtract your age from the number 220. For example, the maximum heart rate for an individual that is 20 years of age is 200 beats per minute (220 - 20 = 200 bpm). An individual should never exceed their maximum heart rate.

To find your target heart rate from your maximum, divide the number in half (200 / 2) to get your lowest target heart rate level. In the above example, the 50% heart rate level would be 100. Finding the upper target heart rate level can be trickier, as it is 85%. Change the percentage into a decimal (0.85) and multiply it by the original number (0.85 x 200) to get your upper target heart rate level (170).

Refer to the table below to determine the heart rate ranges associated with the various physical activity levels. There are four primary heart rate ranges upon which an individual can focus.

  • Light Intensity: This range of heart rates is typical for daily activities (i.e. mowing the lawn, walking at a fairly slow pace). Under the light intensity level, the target heart rate is 50% to 60% of an individual's maximum heart rate.

  • Light to Moderate Intensity: This range of heart rates is typical for weight loss and weight management. Under the light to moderate intensity level, the target heart rate is 60% to 70% of an individual's maximum heart rate.

  • Moderate Intensity: This range of heart rates is typical for individuals that are actively focusing on improving their health and fitness level. Under the moderate intensity level, the target heart rate is 70% to 85% of an individual's maximum heart rate.

  • Heavy Intensity: This range of heart rates is typical for individuals that are aggressively exercising and for individuals that compete in a competitive event or activity. Under the heavy intensity level, the target heart rate is 90% to 100% of an individual's maximum heart rate.

target heart rate zone chart

Calculating Target Heart Rate

Subject: 33 years of age, exercises within the moderate intensity level at a target heart rate of 75%

Maximum Heart Rate = (220 - years of age) = (220 - 33) = 187

Target Heart Rate at 75% of maximum heart rate = 187 X 0.75 = 140.25 bpm

NOTE: bpm = beats per minute

A Healthy Diet for Your Heart

Once a medical professional determines that an individual is at an elevated risk for heart disease or a heart attack, the physician will then determine the best approach for the individual. There are two considerations at this point.

First, is the individual that is at risk of heart disease and/or heart attack preventable through the implementation of a healthy, nutritionally well--balanced, low-fat diet and a regular exercise program? Second, is the individual that is at risk of heart disease and/or heart attack non-preventable (i.e. history of heart disease within the family, blocked arteries, etc.).

In the case of heart disease being non-preventable, the individual must follow the course of action recommended by their medical physician (i.e. heart surgery). However, under the preventable scenario, the individual, with their doctor's approval, can modify their dietary regime and implement a fitness routine that is tailored to their specific condition, limitations and lifestyle. Below are a few tips and strategies to achieving and maintaining a healthy heart:

    healthy balanced meal
  1. Consume a healthy, nutritionally balanced, calorie-conscious diet: Focus on consuming unprocessed foods that provide a high level of nutrition and contain all of the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins required for the body to perform optimally.

    Foods under this scenario include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, fish, beans, legumes and lean cuts of meat.

  2. Maintain a healthy body weight level: It is imperative to maintain a healthy body weight level and to minimize any large fluctuations in your weight over time.

    The probability of contracting a debilitating disease increases significantly in overweight and obese individuals.

    In addition, stressing the body by continually increasing your weight and then losing the excess weight is also an unhealthy approach and puts you at an increased level of risk for numerous disease types. The best approach is to get plenty of physical activity, consume a consistent, well-balanced, calorie-conscious diet that is high in nutrition, and make sure to get plenty of rest and relaxation. Incorporate this approach into your daily lifestyle and your life will be filled with good health, fitness and mental well-being.

  3. Perform physical activities and exercise routines: The human body is designed to perform physical activities on a daily basis. To this end, it is important to participate in a fitness routine where you perform the workout at least 3 to 5 times per week for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes per workout.

  4. Abstain from smoking and other uses of nicotine (smokeless tobacco): If possible, try to refrain from all tobacco products as they contribute to several known diseases and place an increased level of stress on the body.

  5. Minimize or eliminate foods that contain a large amount of saturated fat, trans-saturated fat and/or cholesterol: Instead, consume foods that are high in unsaturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fat. These types of fats lower the risk of heart disease by reducing the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in your blood.

    In addition, omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat, are beneficial to your heart as they decrease the risk of heart disease, protect against irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure levels. Foods high in these types of fat include salmon, mackerel, herring, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, flaxseeds, flax oil and walnuts.

  6. Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and sodium to maintain regular and balanced levels of blood pressure: While it may not be necessary to completely eliminate alcohol from your diet, minimizing the amount of alcohol consumed and drinking responsibly is highly recommended.

    Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an increased risk of several forms of cancer (gastrointestinal tract, pharynx, larynx, lips, mouth, esophagus, breast and liver), cirrhosis of the liver, digestive disturbances (heartburn and other digestive problems), heart disease, hemorrhagic stroke, high blood pressure, immune system suppression, neurological disorders, obesity, osteoporosis, pancreatitis, insomnia, and performance deficits in the form of decreased attention span, vigilance, coordination, cognitive function, reaction time and judgment. Use common sense when it comes to alcohol consumption.

A Good Exercise Plan for Your Heart

There is no question that regular exercise is vital to conditioning and strengthening the heart. In addition to a healthy and nutritious diet, regular exercise can dramatically reduce the probability of developing heart disease and suffering a heart attack.

The heart health benefits associated with regular exercise are as follows:

    downhill biking
  1. Reduction in cholesterol and additional dangerous lipids in the blood.

  2. Reduction in blood pressure levels or balancing of unpredictable blood pressure.

  3. Increase in blood pumping capability and the effectiveness of the entire circulatory system.

  4. Reduction or reversal of the progression of hardened arteries due to plaque build-up.

  5. Reduction in bodily inflammation that may lead to coronary artery disease.

  6. Reduction in the speed of heart failure.

  7. Increases the effectiveness of weight loss. This reduces the probability of contracting a heart disease that is associated with excess body weight.

  8. Assists in stabilizing blood sugar levels. By doing so, the probability of contracting diabetes and heart disease is reduced.

Choosing the right heart-healthy fitness routine depends largely on your personal preferences, fitness level, physical limitations, physical capabilities and the amount of time available to perform the exercise routine. Virtually every form of exercise is beneficial to your heart, given that the exercises are performed correctly and on a regular basis.

Below is a brief description of several forms of exercise that promote a healthy heart.

  • Walking: Most medical professionals agree that walking is one of the best exercises for your heart because it places minimal stress on the joints and can be performed by virtually everyone. For the best results, perform your walking routine 3 to 5 times per week and gradually increase the distance walked while keeping the duration of the routine the same. Once you have become comfortable with the increased walking pace, begin to increase the duration of the walking routine.

  • Aerobics: Any exercise that raises the heart rate to an elevated level and maintains that level for a minimum of 20 consecutive minutes is considered to be an aerobic activity. Typical aerobic activities include aerobic classes, jogging, biking, running, swimming and cardiovascular equipment (i.e. stair climbers, ellipticals, rowing machines, stationary bikes, treadmills, etc.). Swimming is an especially good choice for individuals that require an aerobic activity that places a low level of stress on the body.

  • Yoga/Pilates: Yoga and Pilates are also excellent fitness activities for the reduction of heart disease risk and the strengthening and support of a healthy heart. It is important to choose a yoga or Pilates class that is paced quickly enough to elevate the heart rate to an aerobic level. Additional benefits associated with these types of classes include reducing stress levels and calming and centering your mind.

  • Weight Training: Various forms of weight training, such as circuit training (machines) and resistance training (free weights), have not only been clinically proven to support positive heart functionality, but several additional bodily functions as well. For instance, weight training has been shown to have positive effects on metabolism (increased metabolic rate) and bone structure (reduction in rate of bone density loss).

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. This is due in large part to the fact that many Americans do not lead a healthy lifestyle. There are three primary lifestyle approaches necessary to strengthening and maintaining a healthy heart:

  • Consume a nutritionally balanced, whole food, calorie-conscious and low-fat diet. Food choices include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, fish, chicken, lean cuts of meat, legumes and healthy fats.

  • Participate in a variety of physical activities every week. Design and participate in a fitness program at least 3 to 5 times per week. Ensure that the fitness routine focuses on cardiovascular conditioning, strength training and flexibility.

  • Allow for adequate rest and relaxation. Ensure that you sleep for 7 to 8 hours per night, as there are countless crucial activities that the body performs while asleep. Set aside 30 minutes 3 times a week to allow time for relaxing, clearing and calming the mind.

healthy lifestyle

As is evident, while there are several items related to living a healthy and fit life, the changes required to do so are really quite simple.

However, the biggest challenge for most individuals is their ability to consistently consume healthy foods, regularly perform their exercise program, and successfully get a good nights sleep, every night.

In other words, most individuals live a pretty hectic and busy lifestyle. While this may be true, the only way for an individual to modify their current lifestyle to that of a healthier lifestyle, is with focus, determination, and a will to do so. Our hope is that by implementing several of the tips and techniques included in this article, you will embark on a lifestyle that is heart-healthy, well-balanced and filled with good health and fitness.