Power Up Your Heart Health

Add strength training to your home workout to boost your cardiovascular fitness.

Add strength training to your home workout to boost your cardiovascular fitness.

With age, much of your body's muscle is replaced by fat. By age 75, lean muscle mass drops to just a quarter of your total weight, down from 50% in the young adult years. Some of the effects of this loss are clearly visible — your body changes shape, and you can no longer hoist heavy boxes or sprint to catch a bus. But this shift also carries broader implications for your overall health and chronic disease risk.

Your heart will thank you

Five of the modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease — inactivity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, excess body fat, and diabetes — respond in varying degrees to strength training, says Elissa Huber-Anderson, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. "Strength exercises increase muscle mass and burn body fat, thus reducing the risk for obesity. This type of workout also helps manage type 2 diabetes by decreasing abdominal fat and improving blood sugar control," she says. Strength training may also improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce resting blood pressure, which further lowers the risk to your heart.

Building your program

The first stop when planning a strength training program should be a visit to your doctor to make sure you don't have health problems that preclude this kind of exercise. Next, Huber-Anderson suggests booking a few sessions with a physical therapist who can tailor a strength training program to your specific needs and show you how to maintain it on your own.

The good news is that it takes very little exercise equipment to get a good strength training workout at home or at your office. That's because many exercises, such as wall push-ups, use your own body weight to create resistance. If you'd like to add equipment, Huber-Anderson recommends buying dumbbells in 1, 3, or 5 pounds, or whatever your physical therapist recommends. Another good purchase might be ankle weights that feature pockets that allow you to easily adjust the weight.

Another handy item for a home gym is an elastic exercise band that provides resistance to build muscle strength. These colorful bands often come in sets of four or five that range from very stretchy to heavy-duty resistance. For floor maneuvers, a foam pad or yoga mat will go a long way to increase your comfort level.

Training advice for heart patients

In the past, physicians were reluctant to suggest strength training to people with a history of heart problems, fearing it could be dangerous. However, the American Heart Association now says that strength training is safe and beneficial for most low-risk heart patients. People who have had heart attacks may start strength training when their cardiologist gives them the green light. This most often comes in the later phase of a cardiac rehab program, which includes a monitored exercise program to lower heart risks. In some cases, people suffering from heart failure or awaiting heart transplants can benefit from strength training, provided their condition is stable.

Ready, set, go

Once you've planned your program and assembled your equipment, you're ready to get started. Make sure your exercise is area is clutter-free to prevent falls. Your space should also include a sturdy counter or a chair with a back that you can use for balance. A comfortable armchair is also a good idea so you can rest when needed.

You will want your weights to be heavy enough that your muscles get tired after a set of eight to 15 repetitions. For each exercise, perform two or three sets, resting for minute or so between sets. You should engage in strength training at least two days per week and exercise all major muscle groups on your training days.

Strength training shopping list

Setting up a home strength training program doesn't have to break the bank. You can purchase the basics from a sporting goods store or online for under $100.

  • Yoga-style floor mat: $7 to $40
  • Ankle weight set: $10 to $20
  • Resistance bands: $10 to $20
  • Hand weights: $7 to $40 per pair

For an even lower-cost option, consider making your own weights from items you have around the house. For example, you can create do-it-yourself hand weights by adding sand or rice to an empty half-gallon jug. Start off with an amount you can lift comfortably, then gradually increase the weight by adding to the contents.


Story Credit: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/power-up-your-heart-health