Maintaining excellent cardiovascular health is a goal that everyone should strive for. Cardiovascular disease, typically manifesting as heart attack or stroke, is still the number one killer of men and women in the United States.
Some diseases are unavoidable, but heart disease prevention is largely within our control. That’s because cardiovascular disease typically begins many years before a “cardiac event.” For most people, there’s plenty of time to turn things around. Even heart disease patients can benefit from simple lifestyle changes that can make all the difference.
Risk Factors—Many Are Within Your Control
Doctors have identified numerous modifiable risk factors. Some others factors, such as aging or genetics, are not modifiable. Factors that are within our control include avoiding (or quitting) smoking tobacco, avoiding excess weight gain, avoiding or reversing type 2 diabetes, controlling high blood pressure, getting adequate, consistent sleep, eating a healthful diet, avoiding dangerous trans fats, and getting adequate exercise.
But what, exactly, constitutes “adequate exercise”? Scientists continually examine the issue to tweak their recommendations. For years people assumed that getting at least 10,000 steps per day correlated with protection against most heart disease, for example. Many people who wear step-tracker devices use this number of steps as a daily target.
Shoot for Fifteen
Nevertheless, a study published recently in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that postal workers in Scotland who logged at least 15,000 steps per day experienced significant cardiovascular protection benefits. This finding suggests that, while any amount of exercise is better than none, you really need to be highly active throughout the day in order to be assured you’re gaining reliable, long-term protection against heart disease. To be clear, these subjects were remarkably fit compared to their more sedentary peers, and were estimated to be significantly less likely to die from heart disease in the future.
Of course, research appears to confirm that virtually any amount of activity—as opposed to sitting still (being sedentary)—is better than nothing. You don’t necessarily have to swim laps, run a marathon, or take a cross-fit-style class to reap some of the benefits of being active. Not that any of those activities wouldn’t be great.
But for ordinary folks who may not have ready access to an Olympic-size pool, little spurts of activity may suffice. Many studies have shown the cumulative benefits of simply moving, no matter what you’re doing. That means simple daily tasks—like vacuuming, doing laundry, going shopping, walking the dog, parking farthest from the door, and taking the stairs—can all add up to meaningful benefits.
‘Cardio’ vs. Resistance
But what about the two distinct forms of exercise; is one better than the other? Say “exercise,” and most people think of aerobic exercise (also known as “cardio”). It’s the form of exercise that typically involves moving through space; think running, jogging, walking, skiing, swimming, etc. Any activity—from playing basketball, to playing golf, to dancing the Merengue—tends to involve primarily aerobic exercise.
As “cardio” implies, it’s the form of exercise that gets your heart pumping faster, and makes you breathe deeper and more rapidly. Aerobic exercise exerts measurable beneficial effects on the health of your blood vessels. Aerobic exercise also helps reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It lowers “bad” LDL-cholesterol, raises “good” HDL-cholesterol, and boosts beneficial compounds, such as feel-good endorphins.
Resistance is Not Futile
The other basic form of exercise is resistance exercise. It involves working the muscles against some form of resistance, whether it’s the weight of iron, or the elasticity of rubber bands. Weight lifting is a classic form of resistance exercise. It can be done while remaining stationary, and is typically performed specifically to build or maintain muscle mass.
While “cardio” is typically viewed as best for cardiovascular health, research suggests that it is actually the combination of these two forms of exercise that’s best for overall disease risk reduction.
Indeed, a 2012 study examined the effects of aerobic or resistance exercise—or a combination of both—on the status of overweight or obese subjects. For three months, subjects were randomly assigned to perform one of these three forms of exercise(s). They concluded: “From our observations, combination exercise gave greater benefits for weight loss, fat loss and cardio-respiratory fitness than aerobic and resistance training modalities.”
In addition to cardio and weight lifting, it is important to test your Nitric Oxide levels regularly. You can test your own Nitric Oxide levels in seconds with Berkeley Life’s Nitric Oxide Saliva Test Strips and make real-time dietary lifestyle adjustments.