How An Old Heart Gets Younger

How An Old Heart Gets Younger

Although your heart rate steadily declines over the decades, your heart function can remain high well into old age. This might seem miraculous, but your body has ways, if you give it a chance.


When you exercise consistently with intensity, your heart makes several adaptations to increase cardiac output and maintain your ability to meet challenging physical tasks in everyday life and in the gym. According to Joseph Signorile, PhD, in his book Bending the Aging Curve, here’s how it happens;

First, through exercise, the chamber of the heart out of which blood pumps increases in volume. Although the heart beats slower, it can increase output.

Second, the thickness of the heart wall increases, making it stronger and, like any muscle, capable of a harder contraction.

Finally, the heart muscle in the pumping chamber becomes more pliant. When the heart muscle can stretch, its pumping action is more productive.

What we think of as “cardio” includes other important non-heart factors, all of which are also improved through exercise. Exercise promotes optimum oxygenation of the blood in the lungs, stimulates development of red blood cells to carry the oxygen to the muscles, and increases the density of tiny blood vessels to deliver the oxygenated blood to the muscle cells.

Knowing all this, the question arises: What is the best exercise to improve and maintain cardio performance? Your unique medical conditions aside, all movement helps.

That said, an increasing body of research shows high-intensity interval training has clear benefits for people of all ages, including older adults. At CBF, we exercise at varying levels of intensity, including high-intensity for short periods of time. We’ll discuss why and how we do this in our next blog.

You’ll learn how to listen to your heart and safely pace your exercise without ever taking a pulse.





What About Heart Rate?

What About Heart Rate?

Some CBFers, wearing recently acquired heart rate monitors, asked about the connection between heart rate and fitness.


Obviously the heart is a critical muscle when it comes to exercise (not to mention staying alive), but the value of knowing your heart rate, independent of other factors, is limited.

You need to be aware of those factors, and specifically how they pertain to your heart for that monitor to be anything more than sporty jewelry. Here are two that are especially pertinent to 50+ people.

First, in Bending the Aging Curve, Joseph Signorile, PhD, says research shows that from age 45 on your maximum heart rate drops about one beat per minute with each passing year. He notes this decline is “independent of gender and habitual physical activity.” It’s just an inevitable part of aging and does not go back up with training. (Fortunately, older adults can still improve cardiovascular health and endurance with exercise; watch for the next blog.)

Second, older adults must be cognizant of the effects of their medications. Heart medications like beta blockers can slow the heart rate while calcium channel blockers can raise it, as can thyroid, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. Here’s a quick summary of the heart effects of some of the most common drugs, but this list is not comprehensive. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist, especially if you take multiple medications, to find out how you should expect your heart to behave during exercise.

Also be aware that heat and humidity can elevate your heart rate, and dehydration can lower it. Altitude (less oxygen, higher heart rate) and body position (standing, sitting, lying down) also influence it.

So is that heart rate number and heart rate monitors worthless? Not necessarily. With an accurate heart rate monitor, it’s easier to get a measurement both during and immediately after exercise than when taking a pulse with your finger. However, the accuracy of heart rate monitors, including many popular brands, vary widely, so investigate prior to purchasing.

If you have or get one, use it to learn how your heart behaves day-to-day and in a variety of situations. See what the monitor reads when you first get up. Check it when you are exercising lightly, like walking, and when you are exercising hard, gasping for breath on the battle ropes.

Once you know these, here are some worthwhile insights you might gain from the monitor:

- If your heart rate is normally in a certain range upon waking up but starts to consistently drift up 5-10 beats higher when you wake up several days in a row, you might not be resting long enough between workouts. You might be fatigued and need to skip hard workouts.

- When you stop exercising, heart rate should drop 15-25 beats within the first minute afterwards. Quick recovery is a good sign of cardio fitness.

- If after exercising, your heart rate remains elevated for hours, you might be pushing yourself too hard and need to back off on your intensity during the workout. Sometimes people are not skilled at pacing themselves and think harder is better. That’s a myth.

- Over a period of weeks and months of consistent exercise, you might notice your resting pulse has dropped 5 or more beats per minute. That can be a sign you are getting fitter.

But as you’ll discover in the next couple of CBF blogs, heart health and your fitness goes way beyond heart rate.











Wally – Back in the Saddle

Wally – Back in the Saddle

Wally, age 75, is one tough exerciser. Over a year ago, he had what he calls a “horse wreck” that left him with a serious, near debilitating injury. But, as you’ll see in this video, that was then and this is now. He’s more than back in the saddle again.

Wally started to integrate fitness into his life when he was a young boy, riding a bike to service morning and evening paper routes and tending family livestock out in the country. At age 15 he went to work on a wheat ranch.

During his healthcare career, he pursued fitness in his off hours with running and lifting weights. For many years, he worked out from 4-6 am in a friend’s private gym before going to the office.

Upon retiring, Wally pursued various exercise activities.  Participating in programs at the Bend Senior Center and COCC, he trained for and completed a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon with his three younger brothers.

Wally was working out at CBF before his accident and returned after a year of recovery to work on his balance, muscle strength, aerobic capacity, and flexibility. Beyond his gym time, every day he does some of the best exercise there is – ranch work, like moving hay bales, digging post holes, stringing fence, and tending to the horses.

Wally’s a great example of what you can do with grit and determination.




Karin & The Green Smoothie of Exercise

Karin & The Green Smoothie of Exercise

Karin, age 61, considers herself fortunate to have been raised in an active family that skied, hiked, camped, and rode horses. She was in the water from the time she could walk and in dance lessons when she was 5. As she describes it, they were “committed to being in the body.”

By high school she was a competitive skier and swimmer. and continued into adulthood with skiing and semi-competitive distance cycling. She also did some aerobics and step aerobics when they were popular, although she says she was never much of a gym rat.

Now, as then, her preference is to be outdoors. Although no longer driven to spend long hours training on a bike saddle and dealing with physical issues like the rest of her peers, she continues to cycle, x-c ski, and hike.

And she also spends some time inside in a gym for a couple of reasons.

First, she still gets to play, just inside. Second, she drinks a green smoothie every day to cover her nutritional bases. She says her Younger Games class at CBF is the green smoothie of exercise.

Enjoy Karin’s excellent form and high energy.











Movin’, Movin’, Movin’

Movin’, Movin’, Movin’

Imagine you’re a horse. You’ll get the connection when you watch the video below.

When if comes to fictional fitness for all your life, there’s nothing more important than your legs. They are the source of your mobility, balance, and power.

We devote a lot of exercise time working on feet, legs and hips, starting with the warm-up. We always do plenty of basics like lunges and squats, but we also like to mix in dynamic, multi-directional movements. Watch these CBFers do an exercise routine called “Plough Horses,” wherein one person moves against the resistance provided by a person pulling a heavy exercise band in the opposite direction.

All these moves originate in the feet. When you consider that each foot has 26 bones,19 muscles with tendons, 33 joints, and 107 ligaments, that support their bodies as well as overcome the resistance, the whole apparatus must be strong and flexible. During Plough Horses, they do heavy work.

They work with the help of with the muscles in the lower leg that provide the power to move or stabilize the feet and ankles, as needed. Then the muscles in the upper leg and hips flex (bend) or extend (straighten) the knees to propel the entire body forwards, sideways, or backwards.

Note how their arm opposite to the pushing leg swings forward to add power to their strides, the natural, contralateral pattern that enables a human to walk upright.

On a very practical level, this multi-directional leg strength comes in handy when walking through deep snow, restraining a dog on a leash, crossing a deep stream, pushing a stalled car, pulling a boat out of the water, standing up in a strong wind.

Plough Horses are tiring from all the movin’, moviin’, movin’ and the legs feel disapprovin’.

But it’s worth the effort because, like the song says, you’ll keep livin’ high and wide.