7 Guidelines For Cardiovascular Health

Why Maintain Good Cardiovascular Health?

As you increase in age, cardiovascular fitness begins to decline. More than 50% of all individuals over 60 years old have heart disease. Age related changes in the cardiovascular system plus the impact of heart disease on cardiac performance means a decline in endurance. Needless to say, an adequate level of aerobic endurance is needed to perform many every day activities.

Regular aerobic physical activity reduces the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease. Aerobic physical activity improves cardiovascular health and endurance and helps control several disorders such as high blood pressure and cholesterol that increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. 

With aerobic exercise, individuals with high blood pressure often see some reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Blood sugar regulation improves, thus decreasing risk for Type II Diabetes or improving blood sugar control for people already diagnosed with diabetes. Exercise helps raise healthy HDL cholesterol, and helps lower blood triglycerides.

Although aerobic capacity declines after the age of 30, studies indicate that half of this decline can be avoided by being physically active. The value of a “closely monitored” exercise program for older individuals is essential in improving cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness to enable a person to continue to live independently.

What Can I Do To Maintain My Cardiovascular Health?

Activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming “stress” the muscles, bones, and joints (the physiological systems that produce movement), the heart, blood vessels and lungs, and the other systems responsible for oxygen delivery and energy production. These systems respond to the stress of exercise by becoming stronger and healthier.

You will want to perform aerobic physical activities to strengthen the cardiovascular system. However, it is imperative that you train this system progressively rather than aggressively; therefore, experts suggest making each workout as low-risk as possible. 

Here are 7 guidelines to follow for improving your cardiovascular health:

1.) Ask your doctor if you need an exercise stress test, or whether you should follow any special exercise guidelines.

2.) Exercise regularly. Exercise is much safer for people who exercise routinely. To maximize the benefits of any aerobic exercise, you must sustain an activity for at least 20-45 minutes at each session. If you are just beginning exercise, start with a 10 minute workout and gradually add two minutes a week until you reach your goal.

3.) A mild to moderate exercise intensity is safer than a more vigorous workout. A safe intensity of exercise can be obtained by advancing your heart rate to a certain point called the “target heart rate zone”. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Your target heart rate is 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. This formula cannot be utilized if you are taking certain cardiac medications. Consult your health care provider for your target heart rate parameters. In order to determine your heart rate, you must take your pulse. Taking your pulse: Using your middle and index fingers, locate your pulse on the thumb side of your wrist. Press lightly. Count your pulse for 10 seconds starting with zero and then multiply by 6. Never stop your activity completely to take your pulse. Keep moving at a slower pace.

4.) Warm-up and cool-down. A slow but steady building of intensity during a warm up allows the cardiovascular system to adjust to the increasing demands of exercise, and a good cool down helps it adjust back to resting level.

5.) Included in your exercise routine should be performing strength training exercises 2-3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. Muscles and joints become stronger, daily activities feel easier and balance improves. In addition, many experts believe that strength training can help women effectively manage osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and preserve muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue (i.e., it will burn more calories). By maintaining a higher amount of muscle tissue, women will maintain higher metabolic rates and maintain their optimal body weights.

6.) Listen to your body and heed warning signs of cardiovascular disease, such as a chest pain or pressure, abnormal heart rhythms or dizziness. While these symptoms are often caused by something other than heart disease, it is best to be safe and check them out.

7.) Exercise for the right reasons, which are to be healthy and to feel good. Find activities that are convenient and fun and make them a regular part of your lifestyle. 

With over half of individuals 60 years or older living with heart disease, aerobic physical activity should be in everyone's daily routine to prevent health related problems and or premature death. These guidelines are an excellent first step towards a healthy life and heart.

What are you doing to improve your cardiovascular health? Is there something you swear by that you include in your daily routine? Share your story with us by commenting below.

~Eleanor M. Hagan, PT, MPT, GCS, CEEAA

PS: Need more flexibility to power through your aerobic workouts? Learn what our suggestions are in this excellent blog post on stretching, RIGHT here.