More and more people are taking steps to protect their cardiovascular health these days. That’s a very good thing, because heart disease remains the number one killer of men and women in the United States, and in much of the industrialized world. There are numerous steps you can take to support a healthy heart. A healthful diet featuring plenty of whole foods is a good place to start. Getting plenty of aerobic and resistance exercise is another. Maintaining a healthy body weight helps. Adequate sleep counts, too. So does avoiding smoking and limiting your intake of alcohol.
Assuming you know that the health of your heart and blood vessels depends on these factors, what other steps can you take to ensure long-term cardiovascular fitness and health? For instance, are there any heart health benefits to owning a heart rate monitor? The answer is not as simple as you might imagine, given the recent popularity of these devices. While home blood-pressure monitoring devices have included the ability to detect, monitor, and even track the heart rate (the pulse) for years, today’s generation of devices feature monitoring technology that’s been shrunken down to fit in handy, wearable devices such as watches.
Get in the Zone
The theory behind wearable heart rate monitors involves the benefits of exercising within your ideal heart-rate zone. That’s a heart-rate range within which your heart works harder to pump blood to hard-pumping muscles, without risking damage, or overdoing things. In order to reach “the zone” it’s helpful to know your heart rate at any given point during your activity. Wearable heart rate monitors make it easier for motivated athletes to ensure they’re working hard enough—while avoiding overdoing it.
Of course, the heart beats faster during exercise. Depending on one’s level of aerobic and cardiovascular fitness, it may take intense effort to reach the target heart rate zone. Of course, a sedentary person might find they’re hitting that elevated heart rate just by climbing the stairs to the gym. That’s why it can be helpful to own and use a heart rate monitor. While it’s possible for motivated exercisers to take their own pulse using a watch, it’s not particularly convenient. Today’s wearable devices monitor heart rate continuously and instantly. Conscientious exercisers can use that information to optimize the effectiveness of their workouts.
And why does the heart speed up during exercise? Because the demand for blood increases as the muscles are called upon to work harder. The blood must carry oxygen from the lungs while simultaneously removing carbon dioxide and helping to recycle energy-generation breakdown byproducts, such as lactic acid. The latter builds up in muscle tissue and spills over into the bloodstream during intensive exercise, precisely because muscle cells cannot get enough oxygen fast enough to keep up with the demands for energy generation within the cells. This may actually benefit the heart, as it uses the lactic acid as an alternative fuel source. Of course, the heart must also work harder and produce more energy, more quickly, during intense exercise.
Ranging in price from about $30 to $200 or more, these devices are probably not for everyone. But to the extent that they help motivate you to get out there more often, and perhaps push a little harder, they’re probably at least worthy of your consideration. According to the non-profit consumer-advocacy organization, Consumer Reports, most such devices are capable of remarkably accurate measurements.