Heart Health DiningBy Jason Thomas

There are numerous aspects to personal living that help create a healthy heart, and over the past 30 years a tremendous amount of research has been dedicated to finding the ideal combination of diet, lifestyle, and physical fitness that will elicit positive heart health benefits.

Eating a balanced, well-rounded diet, low in saturated fats is known to be integral in decreasing the risk of blockages in blood vessels. Avoidance or cessation of smoking cigarettes decreases the risk of hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis. Living a more relaxed, less stressful lifestyle decreases the amount of stress hormones released that can negatively affect vascular tone and normal cardiac rhythm.  Physical fitness, specifically cardiovascular training, improves all of those three aspects in and of itself.

Regular exercise performed at a moderate intensity has been shown to raise HDL (good cholesterol), decrease total triglycerides (fat) in the blood, decrease blood pressure, and decrease resting heart rate. Yet, a large portion of the population still avoids any significant daily activity.

Here are some common excuses people have for not exercising:

I don’t like to exercise and would rather just change my eating habits.

The best way to positively affect HDL numbers in your blood is through exercise. Certainly, altering your diet can increase HDL numbers, but exercise is considered superior, and much simpler. In fact, a number of the diet modifications have to be combined in order to achieve the same benefits as exercise. Aside from a reduction in sodium (generally resulting in lower blood pressure), exercise provides more benefits for decreasing blood pressure and increasing the strength of the heart than diet modifications.

I don’t have the time to work out.

As little as 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise performed three to four times a week can produce benefits. That is less time than a typical sitcom. Blood pressure will decrease, vascular tone will improve, stroke volume (heart efficiency) will improve, and you will burn anywhere from 70 to 250 calories depending upon intensity. For every 10 minutes of additional time you can spend performing physical activity, the benefits increase even more. In simple math, with 40 minutes of exercise, three to four times per week over a three to four month period, your HDL levels could increase enough to decrease your risk of heart disease by 15 percent, your blood pressure could decrease 10 points for both numbers, and your resting heart rate could drop by as much as 20 beats per minute.

I hate jogging because (insert reason here).

There is a misconception between aerobic training and cardiovascular training. Aerobic training involves a specific energy system for lower intensity, endurance activities. Cardiovascular training involves exercising to elevate your heart rate to a given level. There are many modes of exercise that can achieve cardiovascular fitness without ever getting on a treadmill or elliptical. Simple circuit training with weights, completed with little to no rest between sets of complimentary exercises will elicit a heightened heart rate. Even an upper body workout involving alternating sets of pushing and pulling activities with limited rest can elevate the heart rate to 60 percent of heart rate maximum provided the program is designed properly.

Jason Thomas, CSCS, is the owner and director of Training at Strength Lab. Contact him at jthomas@strength-lab.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.