This article is written in collaboration with Naluri

The heart and the networks of blood vessels in the human body made up one of the most important body system, the cardiovascular system. Heart disease has been deemed as the number one killer in Malaysia’s death toll. It was found that the rate of deaths caused by heart disease and stroke have increased over the past few years as more individuals are being affected by cardiovascular diseases. 

As cardiovascular diseases claim almost twice as many lives as cancer and seem to account for a very high percentage of all certified deaths every year, this should be a cause of alarm for Malaysian. Regular physical activity is one of the best efforts you can do to protect your cardiovascular system. A sedentary lifestyle, on the contrary, can double your risk of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, it is reported that cardiovascular risk due to the sedentary lifestyle is equal to that poses by high cholesterol or high blood pressure. 

Hence, as Pamilia Lourdunathan, a health coach from Naluri put it “Invest in more time for your heart and your heart will not only thank you for it but will invest in more time for you.” 

Exercise then is undoubtedly the necessary measure that you should undertake for a better heart and a longer lifespan.

exercise

How does exercise protect your cardiovascular system

Exercise or physical activity that increases the heart rate and the blood flow in the body helps releases endorphins. This is going to raise your overall energy levels. In terms of blood pressure, exercise can help lower blood pressure in mild to moderate hypertensive individuals while maintaining normal blood pressure in normotensive individuals. Exercise combined with a healthy diet can also help to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. Bad cholesterol can cause blood vessels become hardened and clogged. It was found that 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three to four times per week helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Regular exercise was also reported to causes a small rise in the size of the left ventricle, making it easier for the heart to supply oxygenated blood to all of the organs, muscles and systems of the body. Not only that exercise strengthens your heart, it also helps you maintain a healthy weight. Cardiovascular exercises or better known as ‘Cardio’ helps create an energy deficit, while resistance exercises improve lean muscle mass and body composition. This is important because excess weight, particularly in the abdominal region, can put a strain on the heart which is why it is commonly said our waistline is our lifeline. 

Meanwhile, higher-intensity exercise seems to have a great impact on our body’s ability to use oxygen. The more we exercise the more our body is able to improve its respiration ability and lungs absorption rate. 

Exercising regularly has been shown to increase parasympathetic stimulation in our bodies. This helps to slow our heart rate down during times of rest. The outcome is a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. It also helps us to have more control over our body’s ability to return to a calm state during times of stress.

As endorphins that were released during exercise is a natural feel-good hormone, this helps improves emotional well-being and decrease stress levels. Because continuous levels of stress can cause chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, exercise reduces your cardiovascular risk not only by physical but also emotional means. 

How to get started?

Thus, good cardiovascular exercises will fortify your heart against cardiovascular diseases. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five days a week. To begin your journey of exercise, follow these 3 steps:

Step 1: Ask yourself: What is my current state of cardiovascular health? Based on this what would be an appropriate exercise for me?

Step 2: Identify the intensity  of the types of exercises you have chosen

  •      Low intensity exercises:

Casual walk, stretching, Yoga, Tai Chi, Mall walking, stair walking, household chores

  •      Moderate intensity exercises:

Working out on an elliptical cross trainer machine, brisk walking, walking uphill, jogging, cycling, swimming

  •       High intensity exercises:

Sprints, High-intensity-interval-training (HIIT), Running, Using the treadmill, Weight training, basketball, football, tennis.

Step 3: Self-check:

  • Occasionally check the rate of your heart through a heart rate monitor through a fitness band on your wrist, a chest strap or even without any equipment by taking your pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying the number of beats by 4.
  • To understand the intensity of exercise, it is helpful to know your maximum heart rate (MHR). This can be computed by subtracting your age from 220. For example a 36-year-old will have a MHR of about 184 beats per minute.
  • Another great indicator: if you are still able to talk or sing while exercising: you are exercising at a low intensity.
  • For moderate intensity exercises, you can talk comfortably but you cannot sing more than a few words without running out of breath.
  • During a high intensity workout, you will not be able to say more than a few words without having to pause to breathe.

How to stay motivated in exercising

Being persistent can be the most challenging aspect of your exercise routine. Because of that, follow some helpful tips like turning on your favourite music or watching your favourite TV series or YouTube videos to keep your mind off the routine. Asking your friend or a family member to join you can also be a good motivation. Alternately, you can incorporate the practice of exercise into your daily lifestyle by opting to make tiny changes such as:

  • park your car farther away from the entrance of a shopping mall or your  workplace
  • use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • take a 5 minute breather to walk around your office every 1 or 2 hours
  • perform some simple exercises that you can carry out at a desk job
  • everytime you go to a mall, attempt to walk for at least 10 minutes without stopping
  • set reasonable and doable exercise goals that you can carry out even on a busy day

According to Robert Gotlin, a specialist in sports medicine in Lenox Hill Hospital & Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York City, it’s not going to work if you don’t like it.  Hence the secret is to find what you enjoy and stick with it consistently and reap the ongoing sustainable benefits of a regular exercise routine.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Naluri – Pioneering next generation digital therapeutics combining behavioural science, data science and digital design to build the mental resilience needed to achieve your goals and overcome life’s challenges that stand in your way.

Sources
Pamilia Lourdunathan Clinical Psychology
Pamilia is a clinical psychologist and health coach at Naluri, with more than 2 years of practicing experience as a clinical psychologist in the government ...
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Pamilia Lourdunathan Clinical Psychology
Pamilia is a clinical psychologist and health coach at Naluri, with more than 2 years of practicing experience as a clinical psychologist in the government and private sectors under the pediatric and adult unit. She obtained her Masters degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from International Islamic University Malaysia and is currently completing her doctoral degree in Psychology at the same institution. She has also received certification on person centered counseling skills.
Pamilia also has experience as an academician and enjoys conducting research. She is currently in the process of implementing an intervention program aiming to improve the emotional, behavioral and social well-being of adolescents living with HIV at shelter homes. She is passionate about helping the homeless and is experienced as a workshop assistant facilitator in collaboration with Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (PERTIWI) and Human Relations Wellness Development (HRW).
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