3 Ways to Improve Your Cardiovascular Health

STACK Expert Brian Smith provides three methods to help athletes improve and maintain their cardiovascular health.

Most people don't pay attention to their cardiovascular health until their doctor tells them to do so. Like me. I figured I was in great shape because I eat well and train five to six times a week. But a few weeks ago, after a simple hernia repair, I ended up having complications. I learned that I need to adjust my training program to keep my heart healthy.

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Although cardio training has taken somewhat of a bad rap in the strength and conditioning world, it's important to remember to train your heart, just like you do your muscles. Here are three simples things I found effective for quickly improving my cardiovascular health.

1. Walking for 30 minutes to an hour three times a week.


The pace should be comfortable enough to allow you to keep up a normal conversation while walking. As your cardiovascular system improves, you will be able to go longer or at a faster pace.

It is important to monitor your heart rate during this exercise. You can check it yourself by using two fingers on the thumb side underneath your wrist. Count the heart beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by six. Your resting heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats per minute. When exercising, you want your heart rate to stay between 70 and 85 percent of your max rate.

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If you are 50 years of age, your max heart rate would be 220 minus 50 (your age) or 170

Multiply 170 x .7 = 119

Multiply 170 x .85 = 145

Therefore, your heart rate should be between 119 and 145 to stay in your target range. This can vary by individual due to medical history.

2. Yoga

Yoga Poses

Yoga is a great way to improve your cardiovascular system. The constant flowing between positions elevates your heart rate, but not too high. Yoga orks the aerobic energy system, making your body more efficient at taking in oxygen and converting it to energy. In addition, you will get the many strength, mobility, balance and mental benefits from yoga.

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The simplest poses include Happy Baby, Low Lunge, Bridge and Standing Half Forward Bend. As you advance, you can take on poses such as Lotus, Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3 (shown in the photo above).

3. Meditation


Meditation is something anyone can do, regardless of physical health history. We work with many baseball players, and one of our friends, Alan Jaeger of Jaeger Sports, has a great sample video of meditation for young athletes (which you can see by clicking here).

This doesn't necessarily train your heart like the previous two methods. Instead, meditation reduces stress and improves the state of your nervous system. As stress reduces, your resting heart rate lowers and your heart rate variability improves. This is an important marker of cardiovascualar health and an indication that your body is better able to handle stress, such as a workout.

The goals for all of these modalities are to strengthen your heart, lower your blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, and improve sleeping. I'm sure you've seen the "consult with your physician" warning before starting a training program. Most of you probably ignore this, but we recommend taking it seriously to make sure you train intelligently and are healthy enough to handle the level of intensity of your workouts. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor before you start a new exercise program:

  • How much should I exercise per day, per week?
  • What type of activities should I avoid?
  • How will my medications effect my exercise time?
  • What heart rate should I maintain throughout the entire workout?
  • What warning signs should I be aware of?

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock