Your heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it requires training to stay healthy. To protect your heart for a lifetime of movement, here are three tips to training your heart:

Monitor your heart rate

The importance of knowing your maximum heart rate is to determine your fitness level and making sure you’re not under or over training. By knowing your maximum heart rate, you can work out what your target heart rate should be – the rate at which your heart beats per minute to maintain a good workout.

Monitoring your heart rate doesn’t have to be a hassle. One way to estimate your maximum heart rate is to follow this formula: 220 minus your age. There are also many machines in the market that have fairly accurate heart rate sensors. If you prefer to do your exercising outdoors or away from machines, you can buy fitness trackers with built-in heart rate monitors. These trackers range in price from $20-$500, so you can find the perfect tracker for your needs and budget.

To find your target zone without a heart monitor, use the talk test. If you can sing, you aren’t working hard enough. If you can carry on a conversation in short sentences, you are in the zone. But if you can’t speak, you are working too hard and you need to slow down.

Just as important as your maximum heart rate and target heart rate is your resting heart rate. The average person’s resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute, while the very fit have resting heart rates in the 40-60 range. Regular exercise can reduce your resting heart rate, which guards against heart disease.

Get moving between workouts

A sedentary life punctuated by bursts of cardio is hard on the heart. Make a conscious effort to move more in your day-to-day life; the old clichés of parking farther away from the door and taking the stairs instead of the elevator are actually good advice. Some other things you can do to keep your heart moving are:

  • Get up and pace every two hours when you’re working on the computer.
  • Do a few squats every time you go to the bathroom.
  • Instead of driving, walk to errands that are within a mile of your house.

These little changes will keep your heart moving between workouts, and could contribute to lowering your resting heart rate. Fitness trackers and pedometer phone apps can help you keep track of how much you’re moving throughout the day, and you can set small goals to push yourself to do just a little more every day.

Know the warning signs

Each heart and body is unique. The formulas mentioned above are averages and approximations to help guide you to healthy heart function. In order to truly take care of your body, you must know the natural warning signs. Signs that you are working your heart dangerously hard include:

  • Shortness of breathIf you are unable to speak in short sentences while you work out, or if you feel like no matter how much breath you take in, you can’t get enough oxygen, you are working too hard. Stop and catch your breath.
  • You feel dizzy or light-headedDizziness means that there isn’t enough blood making it to your brain, which could indicate a problem with your heart or lungs. Stop, catch your breath, and hydrate.
  • Nausea – Nausea could indicate a heart or lung problem as well as dehydration. Stop, take a rest, and hydrate.
  • Chest pain or irregular pulse These warning signs go beyond working too hard in the moment, and indicate a possible underlying problem. Stop your workout, and see a doctor soon.

If you experience any of the following, call a doctor immediately:

  • Pain, pressure, tightness, or heaviness in the chest, arm, neck, or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath that continues after you’ve stopped exercising.
  • A feeling like gas pains or indigestion.
  • Numbness in your arms.
  • Pale, clammy skin.
  • Light-headedness that continues after you’ve stopped exercising.

Remember to warm up at the beginning of your workout, and cool down at the end. Sudden changes in activity put a strain on your heart. Your heart is one of your most important muscles. Protect it, exercise it, nurture it. Take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you.

Sources:

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Target-Heart-Rates_UCM_434341_Article.jsp#.V5zYrv7cjmI

http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/7/636.full

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/chest-pain

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000094.htm

http://www.takeonestep.org/Pages/yourhealth/getfitforlife/takeyourpulse.aspx

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Warm-Up-Cool-Down_UCM_430168_Article.jsp#.V5zbiv7cjmI