Exercising for a healthier cardiovascular system

In this section, we're looking at improving aerobic performance and keeping cardiovascular diseases from attacking your heart's pieces. This obviously involves both exercise and heart-rate monitoring. It's the only thing that knowing your heart rate is good for. In no other situation will that information help you. But since we're trying to target the heart here, it kind of plays in.

Okay, the basic perspective: your heart is a muscle. This muscle's purpose is to make your blood move through your body. The single most critical element of this is taking the oxygen you breathe from your lungs to the working tissues. If this didn't happen, your body would have no way of producing energy aerobically, and you would die. Fast. Lucky for you though, your heart doesn't fatigue very easily, and so it can continue to beat away at its own pace, pumping your oxygen around relatively well.

But training your cardiovascular system involves increasing your heart rate obviously. And there's varying degrees at which this can happen. You can very lightly increase it, work it all harshly rigorous style, or pace it anywhere inbetween. If you go the light route, you're not really taxing it enough to trigger any type of response whatsoever, so it's just kind of a waste of time- not according to the catabolism of body fat, but according to cardiovascular improvement. Opposite that, if you pull the rigorous card, it'll beat like crazy for a minute, and then that's it, it's done. The exercise will be wrapping up by the time the heart rate is actually increasing because you're not really using aerobic energy- you're using anaerobic, which incorporates no oxygen- so your heart could care less. It's called oxygen deficit, but I don't really feel like explaining it- just believe me that intense exercise really doesn't help your heart much either. You end up having a higher heart rate pretty much strictly to support the muscular work of your post-exercise breathing rate and that's fine, but it's probably not really goal-oriented.
But if you train right, there's a huge amount of improvement that can be made by anyone- especially beginners. So if you're just starting, you can expect about a 20% increase in your aerobic capacity within the first 12-15 weeks. Of course if you don't work out right you can expect nothing. Or if you want to keep your half-realistic hopes up, improvements of as much as 50% are achievable depending on your age, genetics, and quality and consistency of your training. But if I were you, and I may very well be, I'm a very powerful human being- if I were you, I wouldn't worry about the end goal. Just train right and get your improvement to your body's potential.

Training right: okay, before we talk about training right. Understand how to calculate your max heart rate because you'll be training at percentages of it. The karvonen formula is the best way- and here it is:

220 - age - resting heart rate X desired intensity + resting heart rate.

For example, you're 40 years old, have a resting heart rate of 60 bpm, and you want to work out at 50%. So it is (220 - 40 - 60) X (.50 + 60.) So 125. That would be your target heart rate. I realize you didn't want math to be involved, so, if you want to make it easier, do this: 220-age. That's also your max kind of. If you're 40 years old again, your new max is 180. Take your percentages from that.

So, for beginners, for the first four weeks, go at about 50% of your max heart rate (give or take a few) for about 15 minutes (give or take a couple), every other day, never more than two days off in a row (not give or take). After that, jump the heart rate to about 70% and add an extra minute to the length of each session every week. So week 5 go for 16 minutes, week 6, 17 minutes, and so on.

Once you're at 20 minute sessions at 70% max heart rate, bump it to about 80% and start tagging on 2 minutes per session every week. Continue adding those couple minutes until you top out at 50 to 60 minutes. Don't bother going any longer than that. And if an hour at 80% becomes easy, you can go as high as 90%- no higher though, that's the absolute max.

And please don't be all macho and just start from the beginning at 80% because you're a pro. It won't do you any good at all. The principles of cardiovascular fitness apply to you just as they do to everyone else in your species. Besides the fact that the slow build up ensures you won't have some sort of myocardial infraction during the process, your cardiovascular system won't really respond much different if you rush it. So save yourself the stroked-numb body and do it this way regardless of how insecure you are.

And as far as mode of training, I don't care. Use a bike, use a treadmill, become scared for an hour- it really doesn't matter. Those factors effect the rest of your body, not your cardiovascular system. Your heart cares about that stuff as much as I do: none. So just get the job done by any means. Except that if it's a stop and go activity, don't bother doing it. It won't help you. And gardening and vaccuuming don't count. Picking up around the house isn't exercise, it's a mentally draining process that does nothing to your cardiovascular system. So skipping a cardio session because you feel winded from raking or something is really ridiculous. The only things that count here, are cardio done for the sole purpose of cardio. And like all things, if you're not consistent, your results will be very bad, such that it's probably not worth it. So be consistent and follow the guidelines. Enjoy being healthy.