Your heart is one of the most important organs in your body, continually pumping and keeping the entire system well supplied with oxygenated blood. For most of us, it is also a neglected organ that would be hard pressed to handle the work and stress of an emergency situation. As such, today we’re going to be taking a look at some of the ways that you can get your hard prepped for tough times ahead.
Diet improvement, diminishing stress levels and regular exercise are all effective ways to strengthen the heart. Cardio exercises, strength building exercises, flexing and stretching can all help to prepare the heart for physical efforts and to being physically ready.
Why Is The Heart Such A Big Preparedness Issue?
Simply put, your heart is the way that you are refreshed and ready to continue work. Every muscle and organ in the entire body needs fresh oxygenated blood in order to function and the heart is carefully regulating itself 24 hours a day in order to deliver the appropriate amount for proper bodily function. Like any other muscle or organ though, without proper care it won’t be able to perform this job and could be insufficient during the dangers of an emergency.
The first threat is also the most deadly, as many out-of-shape people (including some preppers?) may be surprised to find their hearts just quitting on them as their physical workload suddenly doubles or triples from what it was before. Used to working its hardest when they’ve had a mild shock or when they have to walk up some stairs to get to work, these people will suddenly demand sufficient oxygenated blood to handle chopping wood or walking for days on end. You wouldn’t expect someone who’s heaviest weight is the package of cookies on his lap to lift a hundred pound dumbbell over his head for hours on end, but for some reason many people expect their heart to handle sudden massive increases in physical activity.
The second is rapid tiredness or weakness in the face of a threat. The heart pumps as fast as it can, but it simply can’t keep up with the requirements, which results in overtaxing of the body and increased weariness. Every comedy sketch with a fat guy shows him trying to catch someone skinny and rapidly running out of breath, huffing and puffing or even collapsing to the ground as a result of his lack of energy. Although made to make you laugh, there is a grain of truth in that sort of thing that you might want to consider before you need to walk 50 miles from the office to home before your 3 day food supply runs out.
The Three Primary Means Of Strengthening The Heart
Your heart isn’t improved in the same way that your arms and legs are, since the muscles around it are meant to pump blood rather than lift heavy weights or stretch flexibly. However, there are several means of helping your heart to increase its strength:
Improved diet. A diet that helps to improve your heart’s health allows it to repair damage and build up the muscles much faster than a poor one. Furthermore, a heart-healthy diet helps keep the blood flowing freely by minimizing the toxins and general junk found in less healthy foods. This reduces the amount of work the heart has to do to pump it to the far corners of the body, which lets it beat fewer times for the same powerful effect.
Exercise. Yes cardio exercises that increase your heart rate, but even muscle and strength building have their unique benefits when trying to improve the heart. Exercise forces the heart to work harder, but it does so in a natural way that permits proper time to rest and heal which allows the heart to build and improve itself rather than get worn out from constant overwork.
Minimizing stress. Stress is one major factor that puts some wear and tear on your ticker, and it comes from all kinds of things. Troublesome children, work, your car breaking down, fears for the future, and many more things can damage your heart if they’re just left to float around your brain all the time. Stress response is great when you’re in danger or when you need to confront and focus on a problem, but too much constant exposure wears your heart out since it’s trying to be ready for a serious struggle on a constant basis!
These are the methods we’ll be fleshing out for the rest of this article. There are probably others that could be listed (feel free to mention them in the comments!) but these are the primary ones that we felt were most important to focus on.
The first and foremost dietary improvement to undertake is minimizing salt in your diet, as excess sodium causes high blood pressure among other heart-damaging issues. This may seem odd given our post on the many wonderful uses of salt, it’s all about moderation and unfortunately the modern diet heaps mountains of salt into almost every food you consume. Soups, canned goods of all kinds, pizzas, bread and pasta…everything gets the flavor-improving salt treatment. The best way to minimize salt intake is to make your own food, so that you can consume the proper amount (below 1500 mg per day optimally) without flooding your bloodstream with sodium.
Secondly, start adding some of those beans and other prepping goods to the commonly eaten foods list! A varied diet helps balance things out and build your heart up, and gives your body and heart less of a shock when you have to switch over.
Stress is a major heart weakener because it works on it almost all the time, giving the heart no chance to “rest” and rebuild properly. Journaling, prayer, and even getting outside into the sun occasionally all help in reducing stress. Furthermore, deal with some of those issues that are clogging up your brain and troubling your heart rather than leaving them for later. Finally, try to work on mastering a good trick that any prepper needs, which is the ability to see the bright side of things. You’re already looking for potential disasters, preparing for storms or economic collapse, so it can be easy to become depressed or just plain stressed out over what you’re seeing. Just remember that preparedness is meant to improve your happiness, not detract from it, and get your mindset properly setup to reduce stress.
Now, we’re going to delve into the exercise portion of things of improving your heart since there’s so much to talk about!
Disclaimer: Always be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, and be careful to check for potential problems during your first few sessions. I’m no medical, health, or fitness expert so apply this opinion only with proper advice.
What Kinds Of Exercise Benefit The Heart? Starting With Cardio
If you’ve done any kind of research into an exercise regimen for yourself, you’ve probably learned that cardio exercise does a great job boosting both your heart and your lungs. This works for your heart specifically by increasing the amount of bloodflow through the heart, which in turn responds by enlarging certain chambers inside of the heart in order to pass blood through more quickly and efficiently. Not only does this help boost your overall bloodflow normally, but it allows the heart to respond better to sudden increases in activity like sprinting or long enduring actions like spending hours chopping wood or walking for miles. With more blood per pump of the heart, you’ll remain energized longer and be better equipped to handle difficult situation.
Cardio activities include running, jumping jacks, swimming, bike riding, and any other physical activity that keeps your heart rate up for about 20-30 minutes. The key is to allow your heart to actually get pumping and force it to work harder for the hour or so you exercise, then cool down or perform less stressful exercise like weight lifting that is more for muscle strength and endurance than to elevate heartrate. If you don’t go for long enough the heart doesn’t really work hard enough, so it doesn’t ever get the “signal” telling it to expend resources and build itself larger and stronger.
Finally, cardio also increases the number of blood vessels over time, improving the efficiency of the system and greatly reducing the effort needed to pump blood to every part of the body.
Strength Building Exercises
While cardio is certainly king in helping the heart, strength building exercises like lifting weights actually offer unique benefits that cardio doesn’t. While the healthy stress on your heart and the increased bloodflow was the point of cardio, a strength building exercise increases blood pressure by “squeezing” blood vessels when muscles contract which in turn temporarily increases your blood pressure and make it more difficult to pump blood. This causes the walls of chambers in the heart to thicken as it adapts in order to pump the more even when under higher pressures. Unlike chronic high blood pressure as a result of stress or poor diet, though, this is actually to your benefit since the body has a chance to rebuild properly once your exercise is over. Constant stress from poor health destroys, but short bursts of stress improves!
Just About Any “Flexing” Exercise With
As a synergy with cardio, strength building exercises increases the size of blood vessels owing to the increased pressure. Again, when high blood pressure is temporarily the result of exercise this situation greatly improves bloodflow unlike the unhealthy results from poor health.
Stretching And Flexibility
Sadly stretching exercises aren’t as effective as the other two types for assisting your heart directly. About the only thing it can assist you with is in improving circulation to various muscle groups, which reduces overall stress on your heart. The advantages are largely psychological as stretching tends to calm you and improve your mood, reducing stress. As an aside, it’s also highly recommended while you’re cooling down from these other exercise types!