|Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, we want to keep it strong and flexible.
When one thinks of exercise to strengthen the heart, the mind generally focuses on cardio. But cardio isn’t really the place for us to turn for a stronger heart. As with any muscle, the heart’s strength comes from working against a resistance. In this case the resistance is your blood pressure. Strength training is the key to a stronger heart muscle. When the muscles in your arms and legs contract to move a weight, your blood pressure rises, making your heart squeeze harder to continue pushing blood around your body. Repeated squeezing against this resistance makes the heart muscle stronger.
But a strong muscle that is stiff is not as efficient as one that is supple. Cardio exercise is like yoga for the heart. When your heart rate rises, it pushes more blood around your body. What goes out, must come back. That high volume of blood traveling through your body gets forced back into your heart which stretches the heart muscle. The higher the heart rate, the greater the stretch. So doing some interval cardio, vacillating between higher and lower intensities is definitely beneficial.
Remember: these exercises do put a stress on your heart and your vascular system. If you have had any heart conditions or vascular issues such as a heart attack, stroke, or aneurysm, or you are not sure if you have any conditions, you should consult with your doctor before engaging in a resistance or higher intensity cardio exercise routine. I would also recommend working with a certified trainer who can show you how to perform these exercises correctly and safely.
** this article was originally published in the YMCA Buffalo Niagara newsletter. Its inclusion here does not imply endorsement from the YMCA