How To Train Your Heart with Fitness

Your heart. We all know that love can make it soar, or break it. But did you realise that your lifestyle can do the same? Everyday we make dozens of decisions that affect our health, and, ultimately, how long we live. So how can you train your heart fit? Get active!

The heart is a muscle, so to condition it you have to use it – to benefit the heart, you need to perform the right exercise with the right frequency, intensity and duration.

Which Activities Are Good for Working Your Heart?

Activities that work the heart include walking, running, cycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, jumping rope, and the various indoor variations you might find at your local gym, such as steppers, treadmills and cross-trainers.

There are also a whole range of activities can have benefits if done consistently enough - swimming, dancing, tennis, racquetball, soccer, and basketball, for example.  However, the stop/start nature of these sports makes them less effective.

Whichever activity you choose, you need to warm up first.

Ensure You Warm Up

The most simple and effective warm-up is to perform the chosen activity at a gentle pace for ten minutes.  This allows the heart rate to elevate gradually, and your muscles to warm up.  Recent research has shown that stretching BEFORE an activity is counter-productive – save your stretching for your cool-down, when your muscles are warm.

Once you have warmed up, gradually increase the pace until you reach optimum intensity.  This can be tough to gauge, however.  The only way to really know is to use a heart monitor and consult a personal trainer – they will help you work out your maximum heart rate, and how you how to train within your target heart rate.

However, if you are working out alone, a good method is to use the ‘talk test.’ This means that during exercise you should be breathing harder than normal, but still be able to carry on a conversation.  If you’re breathing too hard to talk, slow your pace down.

Getting the Benefits

To get the benefits from your exercise, you need to sustain it.  The general rule is that you should do at least twenty minutes per session without stopping.  If you’re just starting back, then you can make your sessions shorter, so long as you are progressively building up to at least twenty minutes.  Bear in mind also that this is a minimum – longer sessions will be more beneficial.

At the end of a session, take five minutes to cool down – reduce the intensity of the exercise to allow your heart to gradually slow down, then spend a few minutes stretching while your muscles are warm.

How Often Do You Need To Train?

As far as frequency is concerned, experts reckon that three sessions per week is the minimum to gain any benefit – to make progress, you should be aiming for four or five sessions of exercise per week.

For best results, start out by working with a personal trainer.  They’ll design a program for you, make sure you’re exercising at the right intensity, and provide the motivation you need when the going gets tough.