We all know the heart is a muscle.

Most people know that in order to make a muscle stronger, we must use it and challenge it so the muscle can adapt. I could bore you with numbers indicating ideal heart rate during exercise or how often to increase your heart rate. There are many numbers to use when describing how to strengthen a heart. Instead, I want to discuss heart health in the non-traditional way. From my own personal experience and the 14 years I’ve been training clients, I’ve learned a quite few things about heart health.

 

Intensity of Exercise

First, intensity of an exercise is important because you do want to challenge your heart. But, that isn’t more important than the love you may have for an activity. Bootcamp and HIIT training are very effective in increasing heart rates, yet it’s difficult to love this style of workout. You may really enjoy how you feel afterwards. Oftentimes, people find that it can be a struggle when actually in the midst of these kinds of workouts. If you love them, great! I hope that you do them safely and not too often, which can cause your body to produce too much cortisol and break you down. Doing this kind of training more than a couple times a week can actually affect your hormone levels, causing an affect your mood.

 

But do you LOVE it?

These types of workouts can provide both positive and negative benefits within your body. But that’s not the purpose of this conversation. Love is the purpose. If you don’t love being active, what’s the probability of you sustaining this lifestyle? This is one of the most important factors in regards to allowing your heart to adapt to activities. Doing something you love and doing it often will wield better results than working out intensely and inconsistently. If you love doing an activity, do it many times a week for the rest of your life. Runners are a great example. Serious runners are consistent and hardly miss days. We just had more than 20 inches of snow here in Berk County, PA. Yet this didn’t stop a group of people from getting their run in for the day on the icy road.

 

Circuit and Weight Training

Personally, I really like circuit style weight training and do it consistently 2-4 times a week focusing on all areas of the body at least two times a week. This is great for all of my injuries and I enjoy it despite that it doesn’t always get my heart rate up very high. I usually try to throw in hiking or some sort of cardio to challenge my heart. The general rule of thumb is that if you’re sweating, your heart is working at a good level. There are some who don’t sweat much. If you find yourself having this problem, it’s okay! Another great indicator in determining how efficient your heart is working is the talk test. If you’re working out and it’s challenging to maintain a conversation that usually means your heart is working pretty hard to keep you going. The harder it is to talk to someone, the harder your heart is working.

 

Do Something You Love

Thirdly, it’s more important to do something you love versus doing something that is challenging for the sole sake that it is challenging. Ideally, it’s a mixture of both, but the love for the activity should trump the difficulty. The major reason for this is that it promotes consistency and longevity. In order for the heart to get stronger it has to adapt. If the activities aren’t regular, then the heart has nothing to adapt to. I always say, start small then as you get used to the activity, you can increase difficulty in some way.

Traditional methods like biking, treadmill, rowing, or an elliptical are great because they are generally pretty safe and you can track a lot of biomarkers (aka stats). I find that clients who love what they do put more effort into that activity. Some of my clients really love to dance. An hour of dancing can be fun, great exercise, and not feel like work. In my case, hiking is my favorite activity. For these two activities you can increase difficulty by moving faster, or going for longer amounts of time, and even by doing it more often. And, if you have a fitness tracker you can still track all of those same stats, if that’s your thing!

What kind of activity (traditional or untraditional) do you love to do that your heart appreciates?

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