By Meg Sharp, WFCC Director of Training & Education
First kisses… The first time you hold a newborn baby in your arms… Watching that same baby take their first steps, ride a bike, graduate from college, get married… Locking eyes with your longtime partner and realizing you are still so much in love…
Moments that take your breath away are the stuff of a rich, fulfilling life. Sometimes though being breathless can be an indication that your cardiorespiratory system could be stronger.
During exercise, two vital organs interact with the muscles: your lungs and your heart. Your lungs bring oxygen into the body and expire carbon dioxide. The heart pumps oxygenated blood to the muscles where the oxygen facilitates energy production. The CO2 produced by various metabolic sequences is then pumped back to the heart and then lungs where this waste product is expelled.
The harder you work, the more oxygen required, and carbon dioxide produced. Your breathing increases in rate and volume, your heart pumps harder and faster and your circulation speeds up to facilitate faster movement of both so your muscles can keep working.
Increasing your cardiorespiratory capacity will ensure you can work harder, longer and recover faster. It will also mean that tasks that used to be really tough – like climbing a flight of stairs or playing road hockey with an adorable 8-year old – will become more comfortable and enjoyable.
Traditionally we’ve always touted the benefits of cardiovascular – aka endurance – exercise as the best way to improve cardiorespiratory function. And while it remains true that endurance exercise is awesome – it is also true that anaerobic training and resistance training are also extremely effective at making this system stronger and more efficient. This is great news for those of us who are tight on time these days!
Here are a few of the specific mechanisms:
- Increasing the strength of your muscles makes them more efficient. They will require less oxygen and produce less carbon dioxide.
- Both resistance and interval training increase capillarization around the skeletal muscles facilitating better, faster blood flow both in and out.
- Interval training specifically increases the strength of the cardiac muscle and also increases capillaries around the heart. These two adaptations work together to increase maximal cardiac output and blood flow to the rest of the body.
- Because interval training includes rest periods, you are able to train at higher intensities, challenge the heart more and create an oxidative stress. This higher stress may trigger larger positive adaptations in the muscular and vascular systems compared to low and moderate intensities.
- Higher respiration rates and loads will increase the strength the muscles that support better lung function and capacity.
Take home message? There are many ways to effectively train your heart and lungs. If you’re short on time – or simply want to have some fun – don’t shy away from quick bouts of high intensity exercise or quick sets of your favourite strength exercises. Everything will help ensure that the moments when life takes your breath away are more often than not those spectacular times when your heart and spirit soar due to surprise and delight.