How To Prevent A Broken Heart
By Tom Fontana, MSPT
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s the secret to avoiding a broken heart: Aerobic exercise!
Not the advice you were looking for? Sorry, I can’t help you if you’ve been dumped or if the object of your affections is uninterested, but by taking better care of your heart maybe you’ll outlive him/her. In your face, rejecter!
Before seeing how aerobic exercise helps your heart, it’s useful to understand how your circulatory system works in the first place. Think of it as FedEx. The muscles in your body require oxygen (packages) to produce the energy they need to work. The red blood cells deliver the oxygen to the muscles (trucks that deliver packages). The red blood cells get to their destination by the small blood vessels—capillaries—leading to each muscle (roads the trucks travel on). The heart is what pushes the blood cells to the capillaries (the engine that moves the trucks).
Exercising benefits your heart both directly and indirectly. Increasing your muscles’ oxygen demands stimulates your body to make more red blood cells. It also gets your body to create more capillaries to better distribute the oxygen-rich blood. To deliver more blood with each beat, the heart muscle itself gets bigger and thicker (like other muscles). So, more oxygen gets delivered to the muscles through more packages to more locations with a better engine!
These physiological changes occur to allow you to exercise, but last after you’re done. When your oxygen demands are lower (i.e., when you’re not exercising) your heart can beat SLOWER because of all the improvements.
Though the “best” amount of exercise is not known, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend adults perform a minimum of 30 minutes of “moderate-intensity” exercise for 5 or more days per week, or a minimum of 20 minutes of “vigorous-intensity” exercise for 3 or more days per week.
Younger people (under age 40) rarely die during exercise without an inherited or congenital cardiac condition. If you think you might have a condition or you are over 40, you should consult with your doctor before beginning an aerobic exercise program.