Heart health and physical activity

New research, appearing in the European Heart Journal, suggests that lack of physical activity can drastically increase the risk of a heart attack in the long-term, even if there are no symptoms at present.
running and heart fitness
Exercise that raises the heart rate, such as running, may cut heart attack risk by half, suggests a new study.

Cardiorespiratory fitness describes the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles when we are engaged in physical activity. Specifically, the term refers to “the efficiency of the heart, lungs and vascular system.”

A significant body of research has linked cardiorespiratory fitness with a variety of positive health outcomes, ranging from preventing cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality to staving off diabetes and improving insulin resistance.

However, most of these previous studies have relied on the participants’ self-reported levels of fitness.

New research uses more precise methods of measuring cardiorespiratory fitness and highlights another one of its benefits.

Higher fitness levels can halve the risk of heart attack, the new study finds. Conversely, suggest the researchers, poor fitness levels can raise future risk even in the absence of warning symptoms in the present.

Bjarne Nes, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Cardiac Exercise Research Group in Trondheim, is the corresponding and last author of the study.

Studying fitness levels and heart attack risk

Nes and his colleagues analyzed the cardiorespiratory fitness of more than 4,500 people who took part in an extensive health survey called HUNT3.

None of the participants had a history of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, cancer, or high blood pressure at the start of the study.

Just over 50 percent of the participants were women, and more than 80 percent of all of them were at “low risk” of developing cardiovascular disease over a 10-year period.

The scientists used a “gold-standard method” — or maximum oxygen uptake — to directly measure the participants’ fitness levels.

Maximum oxygen uptake refers to the maximum amount of oxygen the body can absorb during exercise. According to Nes, it is “the most precise measure of fitness.”

High fitness halves the risk of heart attack

By the end of the study, 147 of the participants had heart attacks or had developed angina pectoris — two conditions caused by blocked or narrowed coronary arteries.

The analysis by the researchers revealed a correlation between declining cardiovascular risk and increased fitness levels.

“Even among people who seem to be healthy, the top 25 percent of the most fit individuals actually have only half as high a risk as the least fit 25 percent,” reports Nes.

Furthermore, even a small improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness saw significant benefits for heart health. Namely, each fitness increase of 3.5 points correlated with a 15 percent lower risk of heart attack or angina.

“We found a strong link between higher fitness levels and a lower risk of heart attack and angina pectoris over the 9 years following the measurements that were taken,” says Nes.

“We know that patients with low oxygen uptake are at increased risk of premature death and cardiovascular disease,” he continues.

Our study shows that poorer fitness is an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease, even among healthy women and men who are relatively fit.”

Bjarne Nes

‘Use training as preventive medicine’

Dr. Jon Magne Letnes, the study’s first author, also further comments on the findings. “Our results should encourage people to use training as preventive medicine,” Dr. Letnes says.

“A few months of regular exercise that gets you out of breath can be an effective strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Letnes explains that cardiorespiratory fitness offers insights into so much more than just endurance to exercise.

“Fitness isn’t just a measure of how much you’ve trained in your life, but it also tells you what kind of genes you have,” he says.

“Other factors like obesity may also affect fitness. So we measure a lot of the body’s functions, and from other studies, we know that both genes and physical activity play a role in how your heart and blood vessels function,” Dr. Letnes explains.

The study’s first author thinks doctors should consider fitness measurements when evaluating heart disease risk.

“Although it may be inconvenient and difficult to measure oxygen uptake at the doctor’s office, some simple and relatively accurate calculators exist that can provide a good estimate of fitness and disease risk,” he advises.

Exercises which Burn More Calories

In this post we talk about five exercises which burn more calories.   Isolating muscles is so outdated. Unless you’re rehabbing from an injury or working to strengthen a weaker part of your body, the rule of thumb should be to work as many muscles as possible with each exercise (while of course maintaining good form). The more muscles you can incorporate into each set, the more effective and efficient your workout will be.

You don’t need more time to work out; you just need more intensity in your exercises. By swapping these five simple exercises, you can maximize your effort and calorie burn while minimizing your time spent at the gym.

Squats instead of the leg press machine

While a leg press is good for isolating your quads, it leaves something to be desired as a total-body routine. The truth is you have to add so much more weight on a leg press machine to get the same effect that squatting vertically would have. And whereas the leg press includes little to no stabilizer muscle involvement (because the machine gives you total upper body support), squatting forces you to recruit those stabilizer muscles groups in order to complete each rep. That is, your hip adductors (inner thighs) to keep your knees spaced shoulder-width apart, as well as your ab muscles to hold your torso in place as the knees bend. Talk about a full body exercise. Don’t forget to keep the knees right on top of the heels as you squat down for less pressure on the joints and you’ll really feel those hamstrings and glutes fire.

Squat exercises

Plank on a BOSU ball instead of crunch exercises

In terms of overall total body effectiveness, we all know that the plank is superior to the crunch. By holding your entire body in an isometric contraction you’re strengthening everything from your abs and glutes to your legs, back, and chest. But we’re cranking it up a little further. Adding some sort of balancing factor to your plank’in this case a BOSU ball will have your whole body, especially your core, feeling the burn in no time. Simply place your forearms on the rounded side while you do your plank. You can also try them with your arms on the flat side. Once you master holding your BOSU ball plank for at least 30 seconds, start adding in some variations slow mountain climbers and then adding a twist to the opposite side as you bring the knee into the chest are just a few to get your mind working. Any variation after that is fair game. Get creative!

Plank exercise

Pull-ups instead of bicep curls

Despite popular opinion, a pull up is a much more effective way of targeting those guns than a typical curl would be. Plus, with a pull-up, you’re working your entire upper body and engaging your core muscles too. The key is intensity. You can’t cheat a pull up; you either got it or you don’t.  And don’t get discouraged if you can only muster one or two to start, know that you are still exhausting your muscles and therefore building strength. If the thought of even one seems daunting, try wrapping a resistance band around the bar and hook your feet (or bent knees) into it for some assistance getting up. Then, once you become more proficient you can take the band away and start to add more repetitions to your exercises.

Pull-up exercisesPull-up exercises

VersaClimber instead of the bike

If you are one of those people who loves to sit on the bike and occupy your upper body with a book or magazine while your lower body does all the work, listen up. Cardio success is not about the number of calories burned during your 45-minute session. It’s about elevating your heart rate enough for a prolonged period of time (about 20 minutes at 80% or higher) to achieve the “afterburn” effect, boosting your metabolism so you continue to burn additional calories throughout that day and the next. The VersaClimber is a great option because it incorporates upper and lower body movements at the same time, which not only keeps you engaged in the workout but also means you can cut your time spent on the machine in half. So, give it a try. In addition to preventing boredom, switching up your cardio routine will keep your body guessing and you on track to achieving your fitness goals.

Versaclimber exercises

Dumbbell bench routine instead of traditional bench press

Contrary to popular belief, the bench press is not the best move for the upper body. While it may do a good job of isolating a few specific muscles, using two dumbbells instead of the traditional bar will increase your range of motion and recruit more muscles in the shoulders and back as well. Not only that, but you can add some core work into the equation by alternating arms one at a time to challenge your balance and force those abs to join the party. If you really want to kick it up a notch, try switching out the bench for a Swiss Ball and get some more stabilizers involved!

Swiss Ball exercises