As we grow older our heart muscle loses elasticity and becomes less efficient at pumping blood. An efficient cardio program can get your heart strong again.
While many people think of cardiovascular exercise primarily as a way to burn calories, the benefits are far more significant than just being able to fit into your pants more comfortably.
Recent studies have shown that both continuous aerobic exercise (defined as exercise lasting greater than 20 minutes and held at steady intensity during the entire bout) and HIIT provide multiple benefits to your heart and your body’s ability to use energy efficiently. In some cases, HIIT workouts show even better results.
So, if long runs are not your idea of fall fun, then HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) might be for you. HIIT workouts involve repeated bouts of high-intensity effort interspersed with recovery times. The key here is high-intensity. If you want to pack in the benefits of an hour long hike into a 15 minute workout, you will have to push yourself to your absolute limits between your rest periods. But if you are short on time, or just not interested in longer, endurance exercise, you can get all the benefits and more with HIIT.
HIIT and Your Heart
No one expects to be as fit and able at 80 as we are at 20, but we all hope to be able to enjoy life to the fullest for as long as possible. Having stronger muscles throughout our body helps make that possible, and the heart is no exception.
As we grow older our heart muscle loses elasticity and becomes less efficient at pumping blood. That means less oxygen for our muscles. When your heart is unhealthy, even small tasks can have you out of breath and feeling exhausted. Fortunately, it is in our power to improve our heart muscle. Even individuals well into their 60s who have never exercised can improve their heart through cardiovascular exercise.
One measure of heart health is stroke volume. This is the amount of blood pumped by the left ventricle in one contraction. More is better. Both HIIT and continuous aerobic exercise will increase stroke volume, and at least one study found that an 8 week HIIT program (3 times a week) increased stroke volume 10% more than a long, slow distance training group.
Another area where significant improvement is possible is maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). VO2 max is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense, or maximal exercise. It is one factor that may help determine an individual’s capacity to perform sustained exercise. In a 2007 study men and women participated in an 8-week HIIT and a continuous cardiovascular training program. VO2max increases were higher with the HIIT program (15%) as compared to the continuous aerobic training (9%).
A heart that pumps and uses oxygen efficiently will keep you moving and active for longer periods of time at higher intensities – in other words, you can have more fun and do more things without getting tired!