The Heart of the Matter

The cardiovascular system is made up of the heart, the lungs and the blood supply (including the arteries and veins) and it is what most people associate with fitness; i.e. when exercising breathing speeds up, the heart rate goes up and you heat up!

For some time the medical community refused to accept that fitness was directly related to health, obesity and sickness. In fact the only health risk factors they accepted for coronary risk (risk of heart attack) were, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.

It is now widely accepted that in addition to those well proven risk factors; a lack of exercise (and being overweight) are directly associated with all the above risk factors for heart disease; and indeed have been added as risk factors…i.e. a lack of exercise and obesity directly contribute to the chances of getting many other metabolic diseases, some cancers and that taking regular exercise is of benefit in reducing all health/disease risk including psychological illness.

See this article in the Daily Mail by Sophie Borland: Why being a couch potato is as bad for you as smoking: Failing to get fit causes 90,000 deaths a year

And also a recently published article in The Metro highlighting the cost of lack of exercise to the NHS

So, with Christmas only a couple of weeks away, we think some moderate cardiovascular exercise is a great present – for you! But remember, before you begin exercise of this nature you should get checked by your doctor if you have any health issues.

The big questions then become; what is the best exercise to do and how best to do that exercise. A major recent review of exercise guidelines concluded the following:

  • All healthy adults aged 18 to 65 years need moderate-intensity aerobic (endurance) physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes on five days each week or:
  • vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 20 minutes on three days each week.
  • Combinations of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity can be performed to meet this recommendation. For example, a person can meet the recommendation by walking briskly for 30 min twice during the week and then jogging for 20 minutes on two other days.
  • Moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which is generally equivalent to a brisk walk and noticeably accelerates the heart rate, can be accumulated toward the 30-minutes minimum by performing bouts each lasting 10 or more minutes.
  • Vigorous-intensity activity is exemplified by jogging, and causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate (author’s note in final point)*
  • In addition, every adult should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance a minimum of two days each week.
  • *[Author’s additional point] In addition to these guidelines recent studies have found that – for healthy individuals – working at very high (i.e. close to maximum effort) intensities for just 15 seconds followed by a recovery (i.e. at very low intensity such as walking) of about 45 seconds also has very good outcomes on health and fitness. This is called Interval Training; and following around 10 minutes of low to moderate exercise to prepare (warm up) the body a period of say 10-15 minutes of this interval type work is a great way to get maximum benefits from a minimal time commitment.

Most people consider jogging to be ‘what you do’ when it comes to cardiovascular (otherwise known as aerobic) fitness training, but that is not the case. Any type of activity that meets the guidelines above is appropriate, from using a step machine or pool at the gym (which are great alternatives to the jarring associated with jogging/running) to climbing hills, rowing or virtually anything else! However, if you are injury free and able to walk/jog this is by far the easiest, low cost and convenient way to incorporate aerobic exercise into your day. In fact a walk-jog/run approach is a great way to begin Interval Training too.

With just 20-30 minutes needed at a time it’s very hard to see how we don’t fit exercise in isn’t it? – from walking from a bus stop earlier, walking to get the papers/shopping, or that 20 minute walk before bed – which by the way is one of the best known ways to get to sleep if you have trouble doing that…more on that one in the following Fox’s Fitness feature!


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Pat Fox

Pat Fox is an exercise physiologist and exercise specialist. After graduating from Otago University in sport and exercise science he completed his MSc in exercise physiology at Brunel University. Pat has worked with a wide range of groups from young developing sportspeople, older age groups and those with specific needs such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculo-skeletal injury, high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity and those new to exercise.

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