Welcome to our continuing Muscle Quality series. Be sure to check out the other articles in this series: Muscle Quality: Improving It Will Change Your Life, Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 1, Muscle Quality and the Neurological System: Part 2, Muscle Quality and Fat Loss, and our most recent, Muscle Quality and Cardio.
What we think we want and what we actually want are sometimes two very different things. Previously, we discussed what exactly cardiovascular fitness means, and that increasing muscle quality is the best way to improve it. However, what we have learned in our years of experience, and thousands of members served throughout The Exercise Coach® franchise, is that people are actually concerned with improving their cardiovascular health. When we exercise, we want to have the peace of mind that we are improving or maximizing the function of the heart and lungs. Specifically, we want to actively prevent our risk for cardiovascular (read: heart) disease. This is the crucial difference between the two. Whereas cardiovascular fitness pertains to the (possible) improvement of activity related events (i.e., endurance performance), it is cardiovascular health that has the greatest impact on our longevity, energy, and ability to live well.
WHAT IS CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH?
Health simply means, “the condition of being well or free from disease.” Cardiovascular health then would follow to mean then, “the condition of being well or free from disease specific to the heart and lungs.” So, we are either healthy or we are unhealthy. If we are unhealthy, then we would, by definition, have cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease (also called heart disease) is a class of diseases that involve the heart, the blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins), or both.
Cardiovascular disease refers to any disease that affects the cardiovascular system, principally cardiac disease, vascular diseases of the brain and kidney, and peripheral arterial disease. The causes of cardiovascular disease are diverse but atherosclerosis and/or hypertension are the most common.
With the formalities out of the way, let’s (finally) delve into the discussion of how improving muscle quality decreases your risk for heart disease.
HOW IS CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH ASSESSED?
The two most critical factors in assessing the health of the cardiovascular system in the medical field are blood pressure and total cholesterol (HDL cholesterol + LDL cholesterol + (triglycerides/5)). These are the main contributors in assessing one’s heart disease risk factor, as well as proper nutrition, exercise, fasting blood sugar, and tobacco use. So the pertinent question is, how does improving muscle quality improve your blood pressure and improve total cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk for heart disease, and achieve the much-wanted precautions in safe-guarding your health?
HOW DOES MUSCLE QUALITY IMPROVEMENT LEAD TO A REDUCED RISK OF HEART DISEASE?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. By normalizing blood pressure we reduce the load that heart must pump blood against.
Here is an excerpt from the American Heart Association’s Journal Circulation about exercise’s impact on reducing heart disease.
There are a number of physiological benefits of exercise. Two examples are (1) improvements in muscular function and strength and, (2) improvement in the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen (maximal oxygen consumption or aerobic capacity). As one’s ability to transport and use oxygen improves, regular daily activities can be performed with less fatigue. This is particularly important for patients with cardiovascular disease, whose exercise capacity is typically lower than that of healthy individuals. There is also evidence that exercise training improves the capacity of the blood vessels to dilate in response to exercise or hormones, consistent with better vascular wall function, and an improved ability to provide oxygen to the muscles during exercise.
The two examples given are improvements in muscular strength and aerobic capacity. We have already covered aerobic capacity (see our previous post) and how the combination of muscle quality and Right Intensity Training™ have the greatest impact. The other example given as a physiological benefit of exercise is “muscular function and strength.” Improving strength, (i.e. muscle quality), is exactly what stands at the epicenter of everything we are doing. These two physiological changes lie at the heart of what we are striving towards by improving blood pressure and decreasing a significant risk factor in the prevention of heart disease.
MUSCLE QUALITY AND YOUR CHOLESTEROL
Another big concern in reducing our risk for cardiovascular disease is cholesterol. Although the most attention is paid to total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, we know from previous posts on the topic (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) there is much more to preventing heart disease then examining a total cholesterol number. While we know total cholesterol isn’t the best marker for heart disease prevention, looking at LDL cholesterol in conjunction with your triglyceride:HDL cholesterol ratio can alert us to possible problems. (Ideally your triglyceride:HDL ratio should be below 2:1 and your fasting blood sugar < 100).
Rather than rehash everything you need to know about cholesterol from previous posts, our focus is specifically on how improving muscle quality decreases your risk for heart disease.
First, strength training leads to more muscle mass and a reduction in LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, not only does LDL cholesterol decrease, but HDL cholesterol also increases. I know — that’s awesome — right?! The most important thing, however, is not necessarily decreasing LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol, it is decreasing oxidized LDL particles. This is what causes inflammation and leads to heart disease (see our blog post on this topic). Of course improving muscle quality leads to improvements in oxidized LDL particles.
So there you have it. Our general understanding of cardiovascular health pertains to the prevention of heart disease, something we are all after. However, it is the development of muscle quality that lowers blood pressure, increases HDL cholesterol, and decreases oxidized LDL cholesterol. Aren’t these the goals we all seek in regards to our health? And, if muscle quality is the most important factor with which to improve our battle against heart disease, does that mean too much “cardio”can harm our health?
Read the rest of this series: