When I begin to design an exercise program for someone, I consider their overall health and I ask, “How’s your heart?” I want to know so much more than their resting heart rate or blood pressure; I want to know about their whole self.
A lifetime of wellness will require a whole-hearted commitment. When we half-heartedly commit to something, it is doomed to fail. When our “heart is not in it,” do we truly mean it? Are we really going to follow through? That is a very important question, because the heart contains our deepest, sincerest feelings and beliefs, as well as the seat of our intellect and imagination.
Our hearts need to be kept strong and healthy from the inside out. Just as there are certain exercises you can do to strengthen your physical heart, there are spiritual exercises you can do to guard and strengthen your spiritual heart. You’ll be amazed at how a few small, simple steps can have a huge impact on your emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.
One of the greatest missionaries of the first century knew the importance of taking care of the heart. Paul spent a lot of time in jail getting beat up and running from town to town (not for exercise!) in order to tell others about Jesus. How did he keep from getting discouraged? He lets us in on his secret in a letter he wrote to his friends in a city called Philippi:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Spending time in prayer and thanksgiving helps to guard our hearts from the diseases that come from stress and worry. When we pray, we are yielding our hearts to God. When we give thanks for all our circumstances, we are yielding our minds to God. The anxiety or stress that causes our physical hearts to go bad is replaced with peace, when our hearts and minds rest fully and completely in God’s care.
I have a great personal example of this. During the time my oldest son was going through some rough days trying to find his way, I was tempted to let worry and anxiety, instead of God’s truth, rule my heart. I was at risk of an emotional heart attack! I continued to seek God through prayer and by meditating on His word. I continued to give thanks for the day that Michael gave his heart to Jesus. Through these simple exercises, God continually calmed and strengthened my heart with his presence and his peace, and delivered me from my emotional heart attack! Michael came to the place where he is living for Christ and his Kingdom.
As you can see, our hearts keep us going in so many more ways than simply pumping oxygen- rich blood to our organs. Not only do we need to address our “heart condition” spiritually, we need to take care of our physical heart through exercise, eating and rest. Anatomically speaking, the noun heart is the hollow muscle whose contractions propel the blood through the circulatory system. We don’t really think of the heart as a muscle because we can’t see it. Most of the muscles of our skeleton are quite visible under the skin. As we work on these muscles, we can see visual results, usually within a few weeks. Not so with the heart! We really cannot see our heart, but we can certainly feel it.
Spiritually, it is vital that we keep our hearts pure and strong. A pure heart is a healthy heart. A strong heart is a healthy heart. Keeping the heart muscle strong and healthy is the main objective of cardiovascular exercise. A healthy heart will be able to pump oxygen-rich blood with one strong pump. If upon exertion your heart pumps really fast, it is taking more pumps to get that blood to the vital organs. When you are jogging, for example, your legs will need blood pumping into them so a healthy heart will pump strong and get the blood flowing without much strain or without having to pump so many times to get the job done.
The most effective way to strengthen your heart is with exercises, which are strenuous enough to temporarily speed up your breathing and heart rate. While performing these activities, you will feel out of breath, but not gasping for air. You should be able to carry on a conversation, but not sing. Many people are fearful of getting their heart rate up, especially if they have not been exercising in a while or they are deconditioned. There may be some of you who are just beginners at exercise and it may surprise you to feel your body working in such a strong way. Don’t panic! It’s perfectly natural.
You will experience many health benefits as the variety, intensity and duration of activity increases. Cardiovascular endurance is the ability of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems to supply fuel during sustained physical activity. To strengthen your heart and lungs, try activities that keep your heart rate elevated at a safe level for a sustained length of time, such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. To get the maximum benefit from cardio exercise, choose exercises that involve your major muscle groups, such as legs, arms and back. The activity you choose does not have to be strenuous to improve your cardiovascular endurance. Start slowly with an activity you enjoy, and gradually increase the time and intensity.
Cardio Conditioning is one of the components of fitness that will prove to have lifelong benefits. In order to persist in this kind of exercise, you will—you guessed it—have to identify a sustaining motivation. Of the benefits to cardio exercise listed below, on which one would you chose to focus?
- Strengthens heart and lungs: motivation – able to hike and climb with my children, grandchildren or friends.
- LowersLDL cholesterol: motivation – get off cholesterol medications, or never have to go on them in the first place!
- Burns calories to lower body fat: motivation – fit comfortably in airplane seat for mission trip or fit back into some favorite clothes.
- Increased bone density: motivation – be strong enough to carry in the groceries, bag in each hand.
- Sense of wellbeing: motivation – do what I have to do well!
So how is your heart? Is it strong, healthy, pure? It needs to be, so get moving and put your heart into it!
With all my heart,