Updated 07 August 2015

What has my heart got to do with fitness?

The heart of a fit person beats slower, but stronger.

The fitter you become, the slower your heartbeat. And the fitter you are, the quicker your heartrate will recover and slow down to your normal resting heartbeat.

Fact 1: The fitter you are, the slower your resting heartbeat will be. Some athletes boast a resting pulse-rate of 40 beats per minute, while some coach potatoes have resting heartrates of more than 80 or even 90 beats per minute. If you are younger than 50 and your resting pulse-rate is more than 72, your should consider some exercise.
Why does a fitter heart beat slower when you don't exercise? As soon as an unfit person starts exercising, the muscles of his legs and arms - and his heart muscle - will need more blood and oxygen to contract. Your big pump will oblige and start contracting faster and stronger to pump more blood to the muscles in need of more oxygen. In the same way that the muscles of your legs will get fitter, your heart muscle will get fitter, and used to contracting stronger and better. With your heart functioning better than before, it can now deliver the same volume of blood to your body in less contractions. Yes, your heart is beating stronger and better, instead of less and weaker.

Fact 2: The fitter your are, the quicker your racing heartrate will return to normal after completion of exercise. Just as the muscles of your legs get used to exercise, training and working harder, your heart muscle does as well. A fitter heartrate will recover more quickly, in the same way that fitter leg muscles recover quicker.

Fact 3: Use your pulse rate as an indicator of the intensity of your training. Studies have shown that training at 80 - 85% of your maximum heartrate (MHR, which is 220 minus your age), will lead to cardiovascular fitness (increased endurance). Training at 60 - 70% of your MHR will lead to good fat burning. New studies have now shown that training harder for less minutes can lead to the same extent of fat burning as moderate-intensity training for more minutes. Use our tool to calculate your target heartrate according to your goal, and consider wearing a heartrate monitor to help you train at the correct intensity.

Fact 4: Reap the benefits of better heart health in more ways than one. Exercising two hours per week may lead to a better profile of the fats in your blood and a lower risk for heart disease and stroke. Exercise may also help to lower your blood pressure if you suffer from hypertension.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Protect your skin »

Just a little weightlifting can help your heart How to handle incontinence at the gym 10 ways to keep your skin glowing with good health in 2019

Avoid germs at the gym to protect your skin

The bacteria, viruses and fungi that cause skin infections love warm, moist places like sweaty exercise equipment and locker room showers.