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Beyond Trim: Exercise your most important muscle

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 1:37 p.m. CDT

When you think about building muscles, don’t forget about the most important muscle of all -- your heart. While the heart may be technically classified as an organ, it is made up mainly of muscle tissue. This cardiac muscle enables the heart to contract and allows the synchronization of the heartbeat.

To keep your heart muscle healthy, it’s important to engage in regular physical activity. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the key risks for developing heart disease.  

The best exercise to do to strengthen your heart is called cardiovascular or aerobic exercise. This type of exercise is defined as any steady physical activity using the large muscle groups of the body for an extended period of time. Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Over time, aerobic exercise can help decrease the heart rate and blood pressure and improve breathing.

Aerobic exercises can include walking, jogging, jumping rope, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, skating, rowing, and dancing. Any activity that keeps your legs and arms moving, increases your heart rate, and makes you breathe harder can be considered aerobic.

You may have heard or seen the phrase “moderate to vigorous” when describing the intensity of exercise. While there are technical ways to measure this, the intensity of exercise is a subjective thing. One of the easiest ways to measure the intensity of your workout is the talk test. As a rule of thumb, if you’re doing moderate-intensity activity, you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. 

Your goal should be 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity on most days of the week (at least 4 days, but more is better).  If you aren’t very active right now you may have to work up to this in smaller increments. If you can’t find time for 30 minutes at a time, most experts now say that you can break this up into 10-minute increments.

Doing activity that requires moderate effort is safe for most people. If you have a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, or other symptoms, be sure to talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you.

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