When people think of cardiovascular fitness, they often envision a young man with 6-pack abs and rippling muscles. You can find him on infomercials stumping for the latest power drink, diet pill, or hugely expensive workout equipment. All touting, “You too will look like me!” In truth, crash diets and unrealistic workout routines have very little to do with fitness. True fitness has more to do with physics than physiques. So what does Cardiovascular Fitness mean? To answer that question, we need to define it.
The Centers for Disease Control defines Cardiovascular Fitness as “the body’s ability to uptake, transport and utilize oxygen.”*1 In other words, does your body use oxygen efficiently? Consider the factors that influence oxygen efficiency.
* How Oxygen Enters the System
* Oxygen in the Bloodstream
* Ware and Tear on the System
* Heart Strength
How Oxygen Enters the System
Room air only contains 16% oxygen. As you inhale, oxygen enters the lungs and moves to the bloodstream through an exchange of gases. If you breathe through damaged lungs, however, the percentage of oxygen absorbed into the blood stream decreases dramatically. Conversely, carbon dioxide and other waste gases are not exhaled effectively and build up in the body.
Oxygen in the Bloodstream
Components in the blood called Hemoglobin’s or red blood cells collect oxygen molecules in the lungs and transport them through out the body. Hemoglobin exchanges oxygen for carbon dioxide molecules then transport them back to the lungs. Along the way, fats, sugars and plaques are also picked up. These components are sticky much like sludge and adhere to the vessel walls. This narrows the passage causing the walls to become ridged and hard increasing the pressure needed to move the blood through the narrow openings. This stresses the heart as it struggles to maintain the increase in blood pressure.
Ware and Tare on the System
From the moment your were conceived until you die your heart is in motion. Beating an average of 80 beats per minute, 4,800 beats per hour, 115200 beats per day, and 42,076,800 beast per year all with out rest. After 50 years, your heart will beat an average of 2,103,840,000 times with out rest. Preventative maintenance is a key element in keeping the body running smoothly and feeling great.
All muscles share one thing in common. If you don’t use it: you will loose it. If you do not exercise your heart muscle, it can loose muscle tone becoming weak and enlarged. Your heart is no longer able to pump effectively. As oxygen levels decrease, the body reacts by shutting down circulation to the extremities. Symptoms may include confusion, coldness in the extremities and shortness of breath.
To avoid this domino affect, The American Heart Association along with the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following guidelines. “For adults 18-65 at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 days a week.”*2 You get to select the activity and when.
What does Cardiovascular Fitness mean? It is the health of the entire cardiovascular system that ensures the best efficient use of oxygen. As with any great endeavor, it all starts with the first step. So what are you waiting for?
* Let your physician know you are starting a cardiovascular fitness program. Your physician can give you some perimeters to start with and some reasonable goals to work towards.
* Choose a program or activities that you enjoy.
Your program should include F.I.T.*3
Frequency (number of times per week)
Intensity (the speed or workload of an activity)
Time (duration of each session)
* Now gather your support team that will encourage you not put you down.
* Then journal your experiences, successes and your milestones. Seeing how far you’ve come will inspire you to keep on going for the rest of your long, happy, healthy, life.