Know Your Heart, Love Your Heart
By Christopher Piemonte, Fitness and Wellness Specialist
We often associate the month of February with a certain component of our body – the heart. Sure, this is partially because of Valentine’s Day, but did you know that February is also American Heart Month? This pairing serves as a great reminder to love yourself by taking care of your heart.
Now, I’m sure if you were to take a survey, you’d find that most individuals know that taking care of your heart is important. But how many people know what they should and can be doing to protect their heart? How many people even know if their heart is healthy?
Most of us think that if we’re not sick, we’re healthy. That’s a common misconception and it’s one that should be addressed often. In fact, the World Health Organization defines health as:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
“Health is…not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This is such an important point and the foundation in which preventative healthcare is built upon.
So how would you know if you have an unhealthy heart if you don’t notice any symptoms?
Measuring your heart rate is a good place to start. Ideally, your heart rate should fall between 60 and 100 beats per minute when at rest.
Measuring your blood pressure is also important, but understanding the numbers may be a little more complicated. An ideal reading for systolic (the first number) blood pressure is anything less than 120 mmHG. For diastolic (the second number) it’s below 80 mmHG. Prehypertension (hypertension is another word for high blood pressure) is a systolic reading between 120 and 139 or diastolic reading between 80 and 89. Over 140 systolic or 90 diastolic is enough to warrant high blood pressure.
That may seem a little daunting, but fortunately for most of us, there are things we can do to get those numbers in the desirable ranges and keep them there. The easiest one is to start exercising. Cardiovascular exercise is typically what we think of when it comes to improving our heart health, but strength training plays a vital role as well.
Strength training can really help to improve one’s blood pressure because of something called total peripheral resistance. Basically, that means that because the resistance is at the furthest point from the heart (usually the hands or feet), our heart has to pump harder to ensure there’s enough blood flow. Strength training will help strengthen your heart and the muscles you are working.
As you progress through a workout regimen, no matter the type, you’ll likely notice that you can do more and perform at a higher level. The increased performance when exercising will be absolutely great, but the real benefit is your increased performance when you’re not exercising. If your heart is healthier, it doesn’t have to work as hard during daily activities like walking up the stairs, playing with your dog, or carrying in groceries from your car. This is the greatest benefit because the less wear and tear you put on your heart day to day, the better off it will be in the long run. But don’t get me wrong, finally being able to finish that 5k is awesome, too!
Now that we’ve gone over how exercising can help your heart, you probably want to get started with a routine. If you’re finding yourself wondering what type of exercise you should begin with, the answer is simple – whichever you’ll actually do. This may seem trivial, but if you’re just getting started, any exercise is going to be better than no exercise. If you hate running on the treadmill, do strength training, cycling, rowing, or boot camp classes.
Whatever you end up doing, do it properly and stay consistent. Your heart will thank you!