Give the Body What It Needs: Exercise for the Heart

June 5, 2014

“If I remain true to what’s in my heart, that’s all the success I need.” —Steve Vai

Last week we started a series about how exercise is simply a way to give the body what it needs.

Last week’s post was about how exercise can give the brain what it needs.

The body is made up of several systems. The cardiovascular system is the heart and blood vessels.  Yes… we know exercise is good for the heart, but why???  What does the heart and blood vessels get from exercise?

We will start with the heart this week:

The heart is a pump made of  a special kind of muscle.  The heart muscle relies on lots of oxygen to keep pumping 24/7.  The blood vessels in the heart send blood containing oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle so it can do its job.

During exercise the heart pumps faster AND harder.  This is important.  We speak so much about heart rate – making the heart beat faster.  However it is the pumping harder that really gives the heart the challenge it needs to get stronger.  (I.e.: drinking coffee or being under stress is not a good exercise for the heart.  Only increases the heart rate)

Even before you start to move, the brain sends a signal to the heart to start to speed up – Smart huh!  – we call this the “anticipatory response to exercise”.

When you start to move though, the muscles push against the veins (which bring blood back to the heart). More blood coming into the heart stretches the hearts chamber and makes it pump harder.  Similar to a balloon filled with a lot of air, if you let it go, it will fly faster.

When we move continuously using as much of our body as possible (especially the legs), the heart and blood vessels are challenged to keep up with sending blood to the exercising muscles so they can keep working.  To do this the heart pumps faster and harder.

So why does the heart need exercise?

With exercise training the heart:

  • Becomes a stronger, more efficient pump – able to pump more blood with every beat. This is important because it will not have to beat as fast at rest or with movement.  Everyday movements become easier for the heart.
  • Becomes a bigger pump – in a good way. The lower left chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) can hold more blood after exercise training.  This is a good thing because if the heart can hold more blood, it can pump more blood with each beat. As mentioned above, that means less work for the heart.
  • Gets more nourishment – new blood vessels actually grow in the heart – like new branches on a tree – sending more oxygen and nutrients to more of the heart muscle. The more nourished the heart muscle the better it works.  This also means that if one vessels is blocked (IE: in a  heart attack), that part of the heart has more chance of surviving because it has other vessels that work well.

Without exercise training, the heart would tend to get “lazy” or weaker.    That means that every day activities become more tiring.  The more inactive the body, the faster the heart loses function. The good news that it can get stronger.  It just needs the challenge that good cardiovascular exercise provides to tell it to adapt and get stronger.

Walking, biking, swimming, dancing, xc skiing, rowing, jogging……  – any activity that allows you to move continuously for 20-30 minutes at a pace that feels like a comfortable challenge for your breathing.  Repeat at least three days a week and your heart gets what it needs to stay strong for you.

So, when you are doing some kind of “cardio” this week know you are giving the heart a great gift J

Keep Moving, Be Well!


1 Comment

Filed under Exercise and Movement Science, Inspiration

One response to “Give the Body What It Needs: Exercise for the Heart

  1. Pingback: Give the Body What It Needs: Blood Vessels and More | Keep Moving Weekly

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