Heart Health

Updated 11 February 2014

Taking the plunge for your heart

Valentine’s Day might all be about getting your heart pumping but the truth is, the slower your heart beats, the healthier it is.

Did you know that the heart of someone who exercises regularly beats 13 million times less each year and when training in the water your heart rate decreases by 10 beats a minute? The maximum heart rate also decreases by 10 to 30 beats.

If you don't take part in any physical activity the chance of developing many diseases including high blood pressure, developing diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease being overweight or obese and psychological disorders like depression, anxiety and stress is increased.

The good news is that regular exercise can be hugely beneficial to your physical health plus, according to membership surveys conducted by Virgin Active South Africa, "Active makes you Happy"!

Love your heart

It is alarming that over a quarter of men and almost half of women In South African are physically inactive.  Apart from the obvious physical benefits of exercise, the heart is also a muscle and needs to stay fit.

“Any regular physical activity together with a healthy lifestyle, eating correctly, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking will reduce bad cholesterol levels and improve your health,” says Dr Bernhardi from Virgin Active.

“Everyone benefits from physical activity: children, adolescents, young- and middle-aged adults, older adults as well as people who are disabled or who have disease limitations, especially in the pool.”

Read: 10 reasons why swimming is good for you

So how much is enough?

According to Virgin Active, adults should be doing a minimum of 40 minutes of moderate-intensity three to five times a week.

The Harvard Medical School says taking the plunge is the best thing for your heart.

A recent study from the Cooper Clinic in Dallas highlights the health benefits of swimming in respect of heart disease.  One study compared blood pressure, cholesterol levels, maximum energy output, and other measures of cardiovascular health across nearly 46 000 male and female walkers, runners, swimmers, and couch potatoes. Swimmers and runners had the best numbers, followed fairly closely by walkers.

The second study looked at deaths among 40 547 men ages 20 to 90. Over an average of 13 years of follow-up, only 2% of the swimmers died, compared with 8% of runners, 9% of walkers, and 11% of non-exercisers.

Best of all, swimming is the kind of activity you can do across the life span, and needn’t give up late in life.

Jump in, the water’s fine

If you’re already a swimmer, you’ve discovered the benefits of this activity. If you aren’t, it’s never too late to learn how to swim or to brush up on strokes you learned as a kid.

If you’re a beginner, or are getting back into swimming, start slowly with five to 10 minutes of smooth lap swimming. As you get used to the exercise, you’ll be able to swim for longer periods. Mix up your strokes — freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, whatever you can do. In addition to keeping your swimming routine fresh, the variety helps you work different muscles.

If doing laps isn’t your thing, there are excellent aquatic alternatives to swimming. Try walking or running in water. Another option is water aerobics.

Read: Swim fit facts

It’s not your one and only

Weight bearing exercise is very important so although swimming can be great for the heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles, it doesn’t do much for the bones. That’s why swimmers need to supplement their aquatic training with some weight-bearing exercise, like strength training, walking, dancing, stair climbing, or even gardening.

So starting this Valentine’s Day – get your heart into shape - not just emotionally but keeping it beating to the rhythm of a healthy life.

(Virgin Active press release)


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