Benefits of Aerobic Exercise for the Heart
Did you know that aerobic activity can add years to your life? Your heart is the most important organ in your body, and it can enjoy enormous benefits from proper aerobic conditioning. Your heart started working for you since about two weeks after you were conceived, and it will continue to serve you till the moment you die.
Without proper physical conditioning, a normal, unconditioned heart is relatively small because very little is being required of it. Unused and unnecessary tissue in the heart has wasted away. If the person is unconditioned, but is otherwise healthy, his heart will probably beat around 80 times per minute, 4,800 beats per hour, and 115,200 beats per day.
With proper exercise, a conditioned heart is much larger and much more efficient. Not only does the heart have much more muscle tissue, and therefore more strength, but it also has better tone and a much higher capacity because its internal chambers are much larger. And since physical activity makes the body’s blood vessels more elastic and much cleaner, the heart has much less resistance to work against.
The result is that the heart can do much more work with much less effort. A heart that is well conditioned by physical training may have a rate of about 60 beats per minute, 3,600 beats per hour, and 86,400 beats per day. That’s a difference of 28,800 beats per day less than an unconditioned heart, which is the same as about 6 hours of work. Put another way, it is as though the conditioned heart had 6 hours less work to do every day.
Since the heart is made of all muscle tissue, like any other muscle, it is fed oxygen through blood vessels. An unconditioned heart has just enough blood vessels to do what little is being required of it. Things seem fine when all is calm and normal. But what happens when there is some kind of panic?
When the brain perceives or anticipates danger or excitement, the sympathetic nerves automatically speeds up the heart’s activity. The adrenal glands inject a high dose of hormones into the blood, which convert blood sugar into energy so that it can face the emergency. Normally, the parasympathetic nerves in the heart act as a damper control to limit heart activity so that it doesn’t go beyond safe limits. But since an unconditioned heart is usually much less active, the parasympathetic nerves, which tend to calm the heart, are much less efficient.
With little or no safety control, the heart rate can run away to dangerous levels. The few and undersized blood vessels may not be able to handle all the extra stress, and the result can be a fatal heart attack. Without physical workout, in a grossly unconditioned heart (especially if the person is overweight) a heart attack can occur with little or no provocation at all.
A body conditioned by fitness training is much less affected by adrenal hormones, and it has a much more efficient safety limiting control. Also, because of vascularization (the ability of a tissue to grow new blood vessels), the heart itself has more, larger, and more elastic blood vessels of its own to meet the extra demands of an emergency. Usually, the conditioned heart suffers no damage at all from the stress, and it can quickly return to its normal condition.
Many years ago there was an outstanding long-distance runner and athlete named Clarence DeMar. This man participated in the 26-mile Boston Marathon 34 times, he won it 7 times, and 15 other times he finished among the top 10 in the race. After he died of cancer at the age of 70, his family gave permission for an autopsy. The doctors were astonished by what they found. The coronary arteries that fed his heart were two to three times larger than the normal size – true superhighways! This man’s heart was up to any challenge it faced.
In conclusion, your heart can enjoy many benefits from aerobic exercise. Even small increases of physical activity can make life more enjoyable because normal daily activities will be much easier. And best of all, in many cases, proper aerobic fitness exercise may add years to a person’s normal life.