The impact of cardiovascular fitness on our longevity is, in fact, greater than the deleterious effect of other risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even smoking.
The benefits of regular exercise are far reaching and extend beyond increasing your life span. It promotes fat burning and aids in weight loss or weight management.
Regular cardio exercise also helps maintain bone and lean body mass, and prevents osteoporosis. It also increases the proportion of good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol), improves circulation and lowers blood pressure.
How cardio works
Cardiovascular fitness, also known as cardiovascular endurance, is a measure of how well your body is able to transport oxygen to your working muscles during exercise as well as the ability of your working muscles to absorb and use that oxygen.
There are two components to cardiovascular fitness – the transport of oxygen to the working muscles and absorption of and the utilisation of that transported oxygen.
The transport of oxygen is dependent on the coordinated activities of the cardiovascular system, i.e. the heart, lungs and blood vessels. This includes variables such as the stroke volume of the heart, the heart rate, the cardiac output, the perfusion of the lungs as well as respiration rate.
The more efficiently these organs are able to coordinate their functions, the better they are able to transport oxygen to maintain the required level of exertion.
The other component, absorption and utilisation of oxygen at the muscle site, is dependent on many chemical and structural factors, such as the extent of capillary distribution, the efficiency of the molecular transport systems into and out of the muscle cells and the mitochondrial density (mitochondria are organelles within cells that are responsible for metabolism).
Cardiovascular fitness is measured through VO2max testing, which is essentially the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to consume to generate energy for physical activities.
Although this is usually measured in a laboratory under controlled conditions, one can obtain a reasonably accurate estimate using one of many VO2max calculators available on the internet.
Achieve optimal cardiovascular fitness
To improve one’s cardiovascular fitness, the mainstay is to perform any type of prolonged exercise at an adequate intensity and frequency.
Any physical activity that increases the heart rate and maintains that elevation for a prolonged period of time will improve your cardiovascular fitness.
To achieve optimal results, be selective in terms of the type of activity, frequency, duration and intensity in accordance to your personal exercise physiology level and fitness parameters. Things to consider include your age, current fitness level as well as any existing medical conditions which may limit your activities.
Know that there aren’t any one-size-fits-all approach that will optimise cardiovascular fitness for all.
Great news for the couch potatoes! Studies have shown that the most benefit is achieved when an individual goes from being sedentary to being moderately active.
Less is gained when an individual goes from being moderately active to being very active.
Nevertheless, any type of improvement in cardiovascular fitness will help you achieve significant health benefits.
Get in 150 minutes a week
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) currently recommends 150 minutes of accumulated moderate physical activity every week for adequate health benefits.
Moderate activity is defined as any activity similar in intensity to brisk walking at 5-6.5 km/hour; which results in a weekly expediture of 600-1,200 calories.
It is prudent to consult your physician prior to embarking on any exercise regimen; particularly if you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle, are over 45 years of age or have any significant risk factors for heart disease (eg family history of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity or smoker).
Once clearance from the physician has been given, remember to gradually ease yourself into any fitness programme; adhering to the dictum “start low and go slow”.
In due course, your cardiovascular fitness and total well-being can and will improve significantly.
For other healthy living tips, visit Great Eastern Life’s Live Great portal. Besides tips, there are articles and recipes, as well as wellness tools to conduct simple health risk assessments.
You can also obtain information on Live Great events like health and wellness talks, seminars and workshops, and Live Great partners’ promotions throughout the year.
You can find out more about Great Eastern Life’s activities and events through its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GreatEasternLifeMY.
In addition, Great Eastern Life is the exclusive event partner of The Star for the FitForLife Fair in Penang.
The theme for the fair is “Get Fit. Live Great!”, and it aims to inspire Malaysians to lead a healthy lifestyle and adopt a holistic approach to health that includes physical and mental fitness, financial health and general happiness. This is a partnership in line with Great Eastern Life’s Live Great Programme introduced in 2012.
It is the first health and wellness programme by an insurance company in the region, designed to assist its customers in achieving their health goals.
The fair will be held in Spice Arena, Bayan Lepas from Oct 16-18, 10am to 7pm. Admission is free. For enquiries, call 03-7967 1388 (ext 1529/1243) or visit www.facebook.com/starhealthfair.