People who exercise, and exercise professionals like myself, sometimes get so carried away with building muscle, that they can easily forget that if the muscle in the middle of your chest, your heart, isn’t working right, not much else is going to matter.
Your heart is a fist size muscle located in your chest. Depending upon your level of fitness, it beats about 90,000 to 100,000 times each day or perhaps even more. Within one’s lifetime, it will beat nearly three billion times and pump 42 million gallons of blood. Unfortunately, many hearts cannot function properly because of various diseases, most of which are caused by poor lifestyle habits-lack of proper diet, being sedentary, and high stress levels. Even though there has been a great deal of progress in fighting heart disease, still, four in ten deaths are the result of cardiovascular disease. In addition, nearly one out of every four adults suffers with some form of cardiovascular disease. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (USA), if all forms of CVD were eliminated, total life expectancy would rise by nearly 10 years.
Perfect heart–at first…
99% of the population, are created with a physically perfect heart as well. Unfortunately, we spend our lives doing things that damage our heart. Among risk factors for developing heart disease are: lack of cardio-respiratory fitness, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, poor diet, and possibly high blood cholesterol levels. Aerobic exercise is a highly effective way of minimizing these risks. An appropriate aerobic program helps lower blood pressure, provides an incentive for smokers to quit (have you ever tried running or biking at intense levels when you smoke?), and, helps increase one’s level of HDL (good cholesterol), contributes to keeping your weight lower, and helps prevent and control type 2 diabetes.
What goes wrong?
What exactly is the dreaded “heart attack”? The medical term for a heart attack is a Myocardial Infarction. The heart requires its own constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, like any muscle in the body. Two large, branching coronary arteries deliver oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. If one of these arteries or branches becomes blocked suddenly, a portion of the heart is starved of oxygen, a condition called “cardiac ischemia.” If cardiac ischemia lasts too long, the starved heart tissue dies. This is a heart attack, or a myocardial infarction — literally, “death of heart muscle.”
Most heart attacks occur over several hours. That is to say, it’s a process. It may take hours for all of the damage to occur, but never wait to seek help if you think a heart attack is beginning! In some cases there are no symptoms at all, but most heart attacks produce some chest pain. Other signs of a heart attack include shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, confusion, sweating or nausea. The pain of a severe heart attack has been likened to a giant fist enclosing and squeezing the heart. If the attack is mild, it may be mistaken for heartburn. The pain may be constant or intermittent. Also, women are less likely to experience the classic symptoms of chest pain as compared to men. The sooner you can get to the emergency department of a hospital, the less long-term damage there will be to your heart.
Another area to keep an eye on is our heart rhythm. Simply by learning how to take your pulse, you can identify your normal heart beat (normal sinus rhythm) or an arrhythmia. Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) come in many different forms; each one indicated a different aspect of a defective functioning of your heart. These may be what we call PVCs, or premature ventricle contractions. This is when your heart is out of rhythm because it sometimes beats earlier than it should in your normal sequence. Almost everyone will experience this at some time in their life, particularly in your youth. If feels like your heart skips a beat. If this occurs often, your need to find out the cause and have it treated.
Your out-of-rhythm heart might be because of a heart block. This is when the electrical impulses from the atria are not properly transmitted to the lower chambers. This can be accompanied by fatigue and light-headedness. Many times a pacemaker is the primary treatment.
50 years ago, when people had heart disease, the medical establishment did exactly the wrong thing—bed rest! This ended up hurting the recovery of these people and many times, killing them. Today, thank G-d, we have people up and moving within days and cardiac rehabilitation centers in the hospitals themselves, and they are covered by insurance. The best thing you can do for yourself after a heart attack is to get up and get moving—but in a supervised setting. Exercise is not only the best preventative for heart disease; it is the best healer also.
Whether you are trying to prevent heart disease, recover from a heart attack, or manage your health and fitness with an arrhythmia, supervised aerobic exercise will be the key that will “add hours to your days, days to your years, and years to your life.”