How do you take care of your heart? What can you do to keep your heart healthy? You don’t have to be an elite athlete to have a strong heart and be fit. Every year in the US more than 800,000 people have a heart attack or which 200,000 have pre-existing heart disease. I had a rude awakening when I recently checked my fitness level and was shocked at the results. Keep reading to find out where I stand and learn some tips to help us all improve our fitness level.
February is American heart health awareness month, which is very fitting theme for Valentine’s Day. Our hearts need love, both emotionally and physiologically. Emotionally it is up to you how and who you give your heart away to, just hopefully without heartbreak. Physiologically-speaking we can provide that love to ourselves by taking care of our hearts with a healthy nutrition regimen, low stress and somewhat regular exercise.
Let’s look at some scientific data on the topic of cardioprotection and cardiovascular fitness.
Observational studies have shown that any episode of exercise can prove to be cardioprotective. Even short spurts of physical activity like walking regularly, can lead to beneficial biologic and physiologic changes within your heart. Your cardiovascular system can learn to adapt to these changes to reduce its risk of disease over time. In other words, the heart muscle gets stronger, the blood vessels get cleaner and blood pressure runs lower. But how can we measure cardiovascular fitness?
We have some tools that can estimate your exercise capacity and fitness level using VO2 max or Maximum volume of oxygen. This measures the maximum volume of oxygen uptake and estimates the overall metabolic energy efficiency within your cells. By measuring gas exchange at various exercise intervals, we can determine your Aerobic (oxygen) and Anaerobic (glucose) thresholds to know exactly at what heart rate your body makes that switch in energy source. A higher VO2 max means you have more efficient oxygen consumption, therefore better overall cardiovascular fitness at lower heart rates.
The following thresholds have been established for men’s and women’s fitness levels.
- Males with a VO2 max greater than 35 ml/kg/min have FAIR cardiovascular fitness, but if VO2 max is higher than 42 ml/kg/min then that is consider GOOD
- Females with a VO2 max higher than 27 ml/kg/min have FAIR and over 33 mk/kg/min have GOOD cardiovascular fitness
Want to know my VO2 max? I did a VO2 max measurement and my current fitness level is an impressive FAIR, just barely I might add.
For comparison Elite athletes at their peak fitness level can have a whooping 60-80 ml/kg/min VO2 max….Wow! Looks like I have some work to do for sure.
So the question now is, how can we improve VO2 max?
Regular low intensity endurance exercise (running, biking, hiking, rowing) and/or high-intensity interval training can improve your cardiovascular fitness and make your cells more energy efficient. Additionally, losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass can also improve your exercise capacity. Even as little as 10 minutes a day can help to improve your level of fitness.
Here’s another piece of evidence about exercise, heart health and its effect on blood pressure.
A small study of 53 patients with treatment resistant hypertension were randomized into two groups: either a 12 week intervention program of moderate intensity exercise (supervised 40 minutes of exercise 3 times per week) or to a control group receiving usual care and health advice. The results showed that the intervention group was able to reduce their overall blood pressure readings by 5-10 mmgHg and improved their VO2max by 5 ml/kg/min at the end of 12 weeks. In practical terms, that can be the difference between staying on or potentially decreasing medication!
Another analysis of thousands of surveys found data that even some weekend exercise can reduce all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality risk regardless of the type of exercise. Weekend warrior this is you, so don’t give up your day job to train like a pro athlete, unless you really want to.
All this is great info but you might say “I’m not an elite athlete, I don’t have 40 minutes 3x/week to exercise, and I don’t even know where to get my VO2 max measurement.”
Our doctors at Salveo Direct Care can help.
We are launching our new heart health and weight management programs that will provide this information to you in our office. You can request the service as a stand-alone test or as package including a 360+ degree view of your overall health and wellness with a robust emphasis on cardiovascular fitness and disease risk reduction.
Whether you want to compare your VO2 max with your weekend warrior buddies or better yet, let’s see where your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are and customize your exercise routine to reach your fitness goals.
Request your free information session to schedule your testing and give a little love to your heart.
Dr. Prisiliano Salas
with Salveo Direct Care