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bare biology health fitness Tim Blakey's top three types of exercise for a healthy heart

Top three types of exercise for a healthy heart

| MAR 8, 2017

Avoid the ‘pill-for-every-ill’ mentality that modern society has fallen victim to.  The way to optimal heart health lies firmly in your own hands, not the doctor’s.

Exercise in any form is by far one of the best things you can do for your heart, second only to eating well of course.  Whether you’re walking, running, doing yoga; you’re outdoors, in a group class or weight training, there is at least one form of exercise that will suit you.  Even if you’ve struggled to find an enjoyable form of exercise in the past, it’s worth persevering and finding something that motivates you.  As long as you stick with it for just a little while, nature finds a way to make the commitment work in our favour. When we exercise we get a release of endorphins, our self made opioids or 'feel good’ hormones.  It’s what keeps us coming back for more. And before you know it, exercise becomes addictive.

In short, any exercise is better than none.  So any kind of movement over nothing may make your  heart healthier.  That’s because the heart is a muscle.  So it needs to be active, like any other muscle, to be fit.  The more you exert your heart, the healthier and stronger it will become. Here are my top three types of exercises for a healthier heart:

1. HIIT versus steady state cardio a.k.a. sprinting versus jogging

bare biology fitness health Tim Blakey's top three types of exercise for a healthy heart jogging

When it comes to cardio, most people think of jogging.  It’s what we call the steady state cardio. It involves elevating your heart rate but keeping your effort low.  You know you’re doing this if you can still hold a conversation with the person next to you.  This is perfect if long walks, jogs and bike rides with a friend or partner is what you enjoy doing most.  However, if you’re often pushed for time or generally prefer to get your exercise over and done with while reaping the same rewards for your health, metabolism and VO2Max (that’s how efficiently your heart and lungs deliver oxygen to your muscles for the less fitness tech savvy) there is HIIT training.

bare biology fitness health Tim Blakey's top three types of exercise for a healthy heart sprinting hiit

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is all about spending a short amount of time, like 20 or even 10 seconds, performing a conditioning exercise at maximum exertion, before resting for an equivalent amount of time or longer.  Tabata intervals are one of the most common forms of HIIT. It involves 20 seconds of maximum intensity work followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of only 4 minutes. Just four minutes. It’s incredible.  Studies have shown the benefits can be the equivalent of 60 minutes  steady state cardio.  A leisurely 60 minutes with friends, or a hard and fast four minutes to get it done. It’s entirely your choice.*

*As with any form of exercise, adequate hydration during exercise is essential to help prevent your blood becoming less viscous/ thick, so it’s easier to move through your circulatory system.

2. Resistance training

When performed in a circuit type format, where you train multiple muscle groups, resistance training helps improve blood perfusion to a larger amount of muscle than standard cardio training.  As with everything, it gets easier with practice.  This means your blood vessels, and heart, get better and stronger at delivering oxygenated blood to all the muscles you train with resistance.  It can even cause new capillaries to form to improve delivery. It’s fascinating stuff, too few of us realise just how powerful exercise is for our health. It’s so much more than weight loss or gaining muscle.

3. Yoga

From the outside, yoga might not seem like it’s intense enough to work your heart.  However, any novices (myself included) can testify that it's way more strenuous than it appears.  Don’t be fooled, the yogis just make it look easy.  There are multiple types of poses, all varied in intensity, all with their own benefit.  Moves such as headstands and handstands feature a lot in yoga.  They help with blood circulation back to the heart from the lower extremities, which feels revitalising

bare biology fitness health Tim Blakey's three types of exercise for a healthy heart

However, the most powerful effect of yoga on your heart has less to do with the physicality and more to do with your mental state, awareness and the activation of what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  The PNS is known as our calming rest-and-digest system; it does wonders for settling your mood and thereby combating stress related heart disease.  The opposite is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). It’s the system that is responsible for our so called fight-or -flight response to perceived stress.   We may not have to outrun lions and other predators anymore but modern has its own stressorsOver populated cities (hop on the tube at 9am and you’ll know what I’m on about), traffic, work deadlines, excessive caffeine intake and bright LCDs screens everywhere are just some of them.  These ‘small’ stressors can add up to over stimulate our SNS.  The result is a constant drip-feed release of the fight or flight hormones cortisol and adrenaline.  Long term elevation of these hormones can lead to stiffening of our arteries and veins, vessel damage and plaque formation.**

**Remember when healthy saturated fat got blamed for this!? Intake of naturally anti-inflammatory agents such as Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils and wild caught oily fish, turmeric and the fats in avocados and olives can help lower the risk of damaged vessels and plaque formation.  As can learning how to activate your PNS during times of stress. It can be done by simply taking a few mindful deep breaths with extra focus on a slow exhalation. It’s a common practice in both yoga and meditation. Try it next time you're in an argument, you’ll be amazed at how effective it is.


Tim Blakey is the creator of Pr1mebody. He’s a Master Trainer, Physiotherapist and Nutritionist. He has over 14 years experience working with professional athletes and high profile clients. Tim is currently a Senior Perfomance Specialist at The Workshop Gymnasium in the Bulgari Hotel, London. He is  one of the very few male Lululemon ambassadors in the UK. Learn more about him and his services here

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