Your heart began working before you were born. It will continue to work until you die.
Two factors determine the health of your heart:
The heart tissue itself
The number of times it beats during exercise or rest.
To simplify understanding, there are basically three sizes of hearts.
The first is a “normal,” de-conditioned heart. It is small and weak. Because it is not exercised properly it wastes away or atrophies. The second is an enlarged, unhealthy heart that grew to compensate for a deficiency in the cardiovascular system. These enlarged hearts are not efficient as a healthy heart. Even though their exterior size is large, their interior volume is small and unable to pump as much blood with each stroke as a “healthy” heart. The last is a strong and healthy heart that is large and highly efficient. It pumps more blood with each stroke and with less effort. It accomplishes much work with ease.
Remember earlier in the discussion of cells, each cell needs oxygen to function. Even the heart tissue cells need oxygen. The heart must pump for its own needs and the rest of the body. A healthy heart is saturated with healthy blood vessels. Vascularization is the development of new capillaries and the enlargement of existing blood vessels. Inactive people not only lack enlarged arteries, but the small arteries they do have tend to be clogged with debris, such as cholesterol and fat. This reduces the size of the openings even more and reduces their ability to get blood and oxygen to the cells. Healthy heart tissue, saturated with supply routes of vessels is the most important benefit of exercise.
The heart rate is the second factor contributing to a healthy heart. Conditioned, healthy hearts as they grow larger and stronger can beat more slowly because they are pumping more blood volume with each stroke. The average inactive young person has a resting heart rate of 80 beats per minute. Conditioned hearts are far below that. Some distance runners report rates of 32 beats per minute.
Maximum heart rates are important, too. Healthy hearts peak at 190 beats per minute with no strain. Unconditioned hearts may go as high as 220 beats or more per minute during intense activity. That is dangerous.
This means that at rest, the heart is conserving energy, it is producing a built in protection against strain and/or failure. Exercise can not only reduce the heart’s maximum rate, it can also increase the percentage of blood that is forced out of the heart with each beat (ejection fraction), increase the total volume of blood that is forced out of the heart (stroke volume) and increase endurance so the heart can hold near maximum rates for longer periods of time before fatigue sets in.
Exercise also produces more red blood cells to carry the oxygen, and consequently increases total blood volume. Even if your lungs could produce more oxygen, the body cells would not receive it unless there were more red blood cells to store and transport. Studies have repeatedly shown that people in good physical condition have a larger blood supply than those not in good condition. An average sized man can increase his blood volume to nearly a quart in response to aerobic exercise.
At rest, blood moves throughout the large arteries at about 55 feet per minute. By increasing circulation to two or three times this, the same amount of blood can be made to do two and three times the work of feeding cells and removing waste. Activity speeds up the rate of the heart, forcing it to pump more blood per minute. Circulation is increased. As blood volume increases, so does the blood supply to the muscles (of which the heart is one). This increased blood flow results from vascularization. Again this is a result of exercise.
Oxygen is carried in the hemoglobin of the blood. Hemoglobin is carried in the red blood cells. As we already learned, exercise increases blood volume. Therefore the number of red blood cells is also increased. This increased red blood cell count gets more oxygen to the cells and removes more waste products.
Most people know that exercising a muscle by lifting weights is a great way to tone a muscle and make it stronger. Since a heart muscle cannot lift weights, you need to participate in cardiovascular activity to exercise your heart and keep it tone and strong. Exercise makes your heart stronger. It increases the efficiency of getting oxygen and nutrients to your cells to keep the rest of you healthy. It increases the number of routes in veins and arteries to get oxygen to more tissue to keep the tissue healthy. It increases the red blood cell count to help fight off disease.
Remember, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Choose to stay fit and healthy. Exercise. Do it now. Do it today.
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