Posted by Team Jigsaw on January 27, 2015
Every now and then, we're reminded of our un-fitness when a story breaks the news. Unfortunately, the information comes in small pieces that, when taken separately, aren't terribly alarming. But these facts from the American Heart Association regarding physical activity and health should alarm us all: 1
Clearly, as a nation, we're not doing much to protect our hearts. But what does it mean to be fit anyway?
When we think of someone being fit, we think of a thin and healthy person with pronounced muscular definition. Unfortunately, that image is merely an ideal. In reality, being fit (or having aerobic fitness) refers to how efficiently your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and red blood cells transport oxygen to your muscles and how your muscles use that oxygen.
But getting these precise measures requires riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill in a laboratory setting while breathing through a maska complicated and expensive procedure usually limited to research on high performance athletes.
An easier way to measure cardiovascular fitness is to measure metabolic equivalents or METs. One MET equals your resting metabolic rate or the rate at which you burn calories while at rest. Depending on your age, three to six METs is considered moderate exercise. Researchers have found that those who exercise moderately have a reduced risk of heart attack. 2
By comparison, average healthy middle-aged men and women have METs in the 8-10 range while marathon runners have values as high as 18-24 METs. 3 You can use the following formulas to determine your target MET level:
14.7 (0.13 x your age in years)
14.7 (0.11 x your age in years)
Many health clubs offer treadmills, elliptical trainers, rowing machines, and recumbent bikes with built-in MET calculators. Simply ask a trainer how to automatically display your MET level on each machine.
Hitting or exceeding your target MET indicates excellent cardiovascular fitness. Falling below your target means diminished heart health. An eight-year study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that women whose exercise capacity was less than 85% of their target MET were twice as likely to have died at the end of the study as compared to those who achieved 85% or better. 3
Clearly, being aerobically fit matters to your cardiovascular health.
Knowing how to measure your aerobic fitness is great, but knowing how much and how long to exercise is even more important. While the American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of some physical activity a day, 1 studies now show thats just not enough for a healthy heart. And the Institute of Medicine just raised the bar to one hour a day of moderately intense activity such as brisk walking.4
If that makes you groan, rest assured that no one really knows what's best for your heart but you and your healthcare professional. And it all depends on how fit you are, what and how much you eat, your weight, age, and what your fitness goals are. Here are some quick get fit tips:
You'll not only look better, you'll feel better in so many ways. So get up and get going!