Written by Vijay Thakkar
If you think COVID-19 has been the worst epidemic in the last century, causing severe problems, then you certainly haven’t looked at the statistics concerning deaths due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD). As per the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, the leading cause of death globally was due to CVDs at 1.77 crore, such as ischaemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke. India accounted for 20 per cent of these global deaths, especially in the younger population. Recently, we have lost many famous faces and celebrity singers to this dreadful disease, including Sidharth Shukla, Raju Srivastava, Siddhaant Vir Surryavanshi, KK, Rajiv Kapoor, Puneeth Rajkumar, Chiranjeevi Sarja, Satish Kaushik, to name a few. On the other hand, other celebrities such as Sushmita Sen, Sunil Grover and Remo D’Souza suffered from heart attacks and have opted for bypass and stent surgery to avoid future cardiac arrests.
So taking care of your heart in today’s stress-laden world is necessary to live a long and healthy life. Genetic influence on the development of heart disease is an unmodifiable risk factor. However, the good news is that evidence is stacking up demonstrating that weight management, exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol cessation and hypertension are some of the modifiable risk factors that help mitigate the risk of heart disease.
In today’s digitally advanced world, a lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle has been implicated in the rise of cardiovascular diseases in India and around the globe. A sedentary and stressful lifestyle makes our lungs and heart muscles weak and incapable of handling chronic mental stress. Thus, exercising regularly and engaging in low to moderate-intensity cardiovascular activities for 30 minutes daily is the only way to improve the cardiovascular system’s capacity to handle chronic stress, its strength and output to provide oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
The endurance system includes the lungs, the heart, the blood vessels and the skeletal muscles around your core and the periphery, which are the chest, back, abs, arm and leg muscles. Outdoor activities like running and cycling are great ways to train cardiovascular fitness. However, unfortunately, due to the increase in pollution levels, especially in the metro cities in India, it is not advisable to do outdoor activities because you will end up inhaling dust and pollution, which will do more harm than good to your body.
Hence doing endurance training indoors, such as in the gym, is a highly beneficial environment to train your endurance system and strengthen the cardiovascular muscles while reducing the risk factors of developing CVD later in life. Choosing the suitable machine for your cardio workout may seem overwhelming, but here is an easy and comprehensive guide to start your journey to a stronger heart. But as always take a heart stress test and get yourself cleared for any routine that you might want to take up.
There are various cardio machines that one can use in the gym to get a great workout:
1. Treadmill: The treadmill mimics the action of walking, jogging or running outdoors without the pollution and dust; thus, it’s a trendy choice for cardio workouts. You can exercise with various speed settings, increase the incline to increase the intensity of the activity and shift muscle loading to challenge different muscle groups and work in different cardio zones to challenge your cardiovascular system. This treadmill is a versatile piece of equipment that can give you diverse permutations and combinations of workouts.
2. Elliptical Trainer: Unlike the treadmill, which is a high-impact activity that involves running and impact on your ankle, knee and lower back muscles, the elliptical trainer is a low-impact machine that mimics running mechanics while minimising the stress on the joints. Not only that, most elliptical trainers are also good at improving the endurance of your upper body muscles because they have moving handles that simultaneously train and enhance the endurance of your chest, back and arm muscles with the pull and push motion. Overall, elliptical trainers are an excellent choice for those with joint issues or for those looking for a more comfortable cardio workout.
3. Stationary Bike: Exercise bikes are an excellent way to train your cardiovascular system without too much stress on your joints due to their non-weight-bearing nature since you do it in a seated position. You have two options: upright bikes, which emulate conventional outdoor cycling without dust and pollution. The other variant is the recumbent bike, which is done in a more relaxed seated position with back support.
4. Rowing Machine: Rowing machines are a unique offering that provides a full-body workout, maximally engaging the limbs of both your upper and lower body and tremendously improving your cardiovascular fitness. The great thing about rowing is that as your endurance fitness builds up, you can adjust the resistance levels, overcome adaption, and increase the intensity while allowing you to tailor your workout accordingly.
5. Stair Climber: This machine simulates stair climbing mechanics and is an excellent option for targetting your lower body muscles, especially your glutes, hamstrings and quads, while providing a fantastic cardiovascular workout.
6. Arc Trainer: This machine is identical to an elliptical trainer, which helps you train the upper and lower body. However, the arc motion offers a low-impact cardio workout emphasising glutes, hamstrings and quads. The machine’s unique design allows for a more natural range of motion and can be adjusted for resistance and incline, which helps emphasise different muscle groups.
However, it is essential to note that we should only start a cardio workout programme under the guidance and supervision of a healthcare expert or a qualified fitness expert after clearing the stress test and getting their consent that it is safe to engage in exercise. When beginning a cardio workout, doing appropriate warm-ups, assessing your capacity, and working within your limits are always advisable while making an informed decision to increase intensity after getting clearance from a certified expert.