Aerobic fitness is a good predictor of long-term health. And your fitness is determined by the maximum volume of oxygen your muscles use during exercise. For this reason, when people think of aerobic activity, they think of the heart. But your aerobic system has a lot of components. Here are six things, including your core, that are linked to optimal aerobic fitness, along with tips on how to improve each of them.
USE YOUR LUNGS
The first step in aerobic fitness is to make full use of your lungs. We often see people get bad results from cardio workouts because they are shallow ventilators. This means that they unknowingly restrict their breathing, not getting the maximum air volume.
What you can do: Practice breathing from your diaphragm. Lie on your back and place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Breathe deeply and move your hand across your stomach while limiting the movement of the hand on your chest.
GET AN EFFICIENT OXYGEN TRANSFER
When you get the optimum volume of air in your lungs, it will produce pressure which will help oxygen to flow into your blood. But if your lungs are not healthy (for example, if you smoke or have asthma), this function may be limited.
What you can do: If you are a smoker, quit. If you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis, good breathing is even more important. Asthmatics should stay away from triggers. If you don’t have lung problems, avoid air pollutants when you exercise.
OBTAIN NORMAL HEMOGLOBIN LEVELS
Oxygen is transferred from the lungs to the blood. A molecule called hemoglobin carries it to tissues. People with low hemoglobin levels, called anemia, generally have lower exercise capacity. An important factor is iron. It helps hemoglobin to work well.
What you can do: If you think your hemoglobin is low, see your family doctor to find the cause. You may need to eat more foods rich in iron and vitamin B12. This is especially important for vegetarians and for women during the menstrual cycle.
KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY
Your heart is the pump that carries oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Its performance is based on how fast it beats and how much blood comes out with each beat.
What you can do: Train him. Any activity that makes your heart beat faster will challenge it. Your maximum heart rate is (approximately) determined by subtracting your age from 220. This rate is not sustainable for long periods of time. But through training, you may be able to maintain a higher target heart rate. For example, if today you can exercise at 60% of your maximum, you can improve your performance by reaching a higher percentage. In turn, a healthy heart can expel more blood with each beat. If you really want to track your heart rate, consider getting a heart rate monitor.
KEEP YOUR PIPES OPEN
The system of small blood vessels around your muscles will determine how quickly oxygen enters the muscles. More ships will get there faster. Plus, if some of those tiny blood vessels are blocked or hardened, your performance will suffer.
What you can do: Keeping your cholesterol under control will help keep the pipes open. If you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, it may indicate that the small blood vessels are blocked.
DON’T FORGET THE ENERGY MANUFACTURERS
Last but not least, your muscles must be equipped to use oxygen. This is determined by healthy mitochondria. They are energy makers in your muscles. The more you have, the more efficient you will be.
What you can do: Challenge your aerobic system. Any activity that increases your heart rate and respiratory rate will help you build mitochondria. It doesn’t have to be long if it’s difficult. With activities of less intensity, you will have to compensate by going for longer.
Improving your aerobic performance isn’t just limited to your heart. By maximizing the other five items on this list, you’ll put less stress on your heart. Optimizing all of the components of your aerobic system is the path to success.
Health advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, from pediatrics to aging.
Gilles Beaudin is a registered clinical exercise physiologist with the Cleveland Clinic Canada.