Cardiovascular Health

Cardiovascular Health: Why It Matters and How to Improve It - Part 2

Optimal Humans

In Part 1 we discussed Anaerobic and Aerobic capacity. Accompanied with testing protocols, and training for both. In Part 2 we will explore Maximum Aerobic Function and C02 Tolerance and hopefully improve your cardiovascular health literacy just that little bit more.

The aerobic system is fascinating and learning about it can provide you with valuable insights into how your body works and how you can improve your overall health and fitness. By understanding the science behind the aerobic system, you'll be able to optimise your workouts, increase your endurance, and improve your cardiovascular health. Whether you're an athlete looking to enhance your performance or just someone who wants to feel healthier and more energised, exploring the intricacies of the aerobic system is definitely worth your time and effort. So why don't we dip the toe in and see what you can discover? You might just surprise yourself with what you're capable of achieving!

Just like how a strong foundation is crucial for building a stable and long-lasting house, a strong cardiovascular system is essential for maintaining good health, striving for high performance and preventing various diseases.

Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF)

Maximum aerobic function (MAF) refers to the highest intensity of exercise that you can sustain while still using oxygen to produce energy. In other words how efficient is your aerobic system? I want you to always remember, it’s your engine, and it affects all aspects of your health and performance. It allows you to recover faster an move for longer periods of time.

So beyond that why should I care:

  • Improved cardiovascular health: Building maximum aerobic function can improve cardiovascular health by increasing the heart's ability to pump blood and improving oxygen delivery to the muscles and organs.
  • Improved lung function: Aerobic exercise can improve lung function by increasing the volume of air that can be inhaled and exhaled with each breath.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity: Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help prevent type 2 diabetes and improve overall metabolic health.
  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases: Building maximum aerobic function can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
  • Improved mental health: Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve mood, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive function.
  • Improved immune function: Regular aerobic exercise can boost immune function by increasing the production of antibodies and white blood cells that help fight off infection.
  • Improved quality of sleep: Aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality by increasing the amount of deep sleep and reducing the time it takes to fall asleep.
  • Improved longevity: Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to increase lifespan and reduce the risk of premature death.

The gold standard test for maximum aerobic function is the lactate threshold test, which involves measuring blood lactate levels at different exercise intensities. But unless you're an athlete or have a clinical setting next door, this isn’t really necessary.

Dr. Phil Maffetone’s MAF Test is a great alternative and all you need. He proposes the 20-30 min test, that measures max distance at or under your Aerobic Threshold. The MAF 180 Formula is essentially your aerobic threshold. So your Aerobic Threshold = (180-age). With some considerations. Plus 5 if you’re fit and minus 5 if you’ve had time off. I.e. a 27 year old female who trains regularly and has a training history of over 5 years works out to have a target heart rate of 158 bpm. (180-27)+5 = 158. If you’ve completed the test correctly the second half of the test will be slower.

You need to test your MAF monthly, its purpose is to uncover when your aerobic system is getting off course. Data points will show you if you’re headed in the wrong direction, either from too much anaerobic exercise, too little aerobic exercise or any imbalance that is having an adverse effect on the aerobic system. 

Improving your MAF is easy, it just requires time. 10mins before and after 3 strength sessions a week and you’ve got 60 minutes under your belt. Though i recommend dedicated sessions fro longer duration. To truly optimise your aerobic system you will require some time in the trenches, to master diaphragmatic breathing coordinated with nose/nose & nose/mouth breathing patterns, giving time for strength and capacity adaptation in all respiratory muscles. To optimise the aerobic system you must complete sessions in a continuous manner, predominantly in what we call ZONE 2.

One effective way to improve your MAF is performing long, slow duration sessions at or below your aerobic threshold. Each week, slowly progressing the duration. To gauge your progress you should perform a MAF test, at the start of week 1 and week 5. After the week 5 retest you'll know if you're on the right track. These tests replace your training session and theoretically allow for some de-load.

A Basic Program for a 40yr Old Individual.

Please note that you can perform a MAF test running on a flat repeatable course with no interruptions, swimming, or on any piece of cardio equipment. I will say that swimming can be challenging to monitor heart rate, but some modern goggles show the heart rate in the lens. Concept 2 ergs with PM5 computers, assault bikes and curve runners allow you to connect your heart rate and phone via bluetooth for accurate tracking and reporting.

CO2 Tolerance

CO2 tolerance refers to your body's ability to tolerate and regulate carbon dioxide levels. This is important for overall respiratory health and can also impact your overall physical and cognitive performance. Improving your CO2 tolerance can help you breathe more efficiently during exercise and can also improve your overall respiratory health.

One effective way to improve your CO2 tolerance is through Apnea or Cadence breathing. These exercises involve breath holds and controlled breathing and can help you improve your ability to tolerate and regulate carbon dioxide levels, improve lung function, and learn to control your nervous system. My favourite source of information is Brian Mackenzie & Shift Adapt. This link has a great FREE tool they've provided to introduce you to cadence and apnea breathing.

So why should you care:

  • Increased tolerance for high-intensity exercise, as improved CO2 tolerance can aid in the removal of waste products and help maintain proper pH balance in the body.
  • Improved stress tolerance and overall resilience, as CO2 tolerance training can help increase one's ability to tolerate physical and emotional stress.
  • Potential benefits for individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma, as improved CO2 tolerance can improve lung function and reduce symptoms.
  • Reduced risk of breathlessness, anxiety, and panic in situations where breathing is restricted.
  • Improved athletic performance in activities that require breath-holding, such as swimming and diving.

Shift adapts tests are fantastic. At optimal humans we also recommend that you start with two simple breath hold tests. A Seated Bolt Test or MVAT. Coupled together give you more info than just CO2 tolerance.

The Bolt Test measures your tolerance to carbon dioxide, which can help identify if you are hyperventilating or have an impaired breathing pattern. It can also help to identify breathing disorders such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Protocol: The individual takes a maximal exhalation, then holds their breath for as long as possible. The test is repeated three times, and the longest time recorded.

The MVAT (Maximum Voluntary Apnea Test) measures how long you can hold your breath for, which can provide an indication of your overall lung function and respiratory endurance.

Protocol: The individual takes a full inhalation, then holds their breath for as long as possible. The test is repeated three times, and the longest time recorded.

Wow, these blogs are really packed with useful information! It's amazing how taking care of our cardiovascular health can have such a positive impact on our overall well-being. If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't worry - keeping it simple is the key. Just start by testing and implementing small changes to your routine, and you'll be on your way to a healthier heart in no time.

In Part 1 & Part 2, we've covered 5 essential cardiovascular tests that will give you a great insight into your overall health. These tests are a great starting point, and they'll help you identify areas that need improvement. Download our App and start testing and tracking today.

But that's not all - in Part 3, we'll explore even more ways to optimise your cardiovascular health, including the role of muscles, the importance of posture and mobility, and how different lifestyle factors can affect your heart health.

Remember, taking care of your cardiovascular health is a journey, not a destination. So don't be discouraged if you don't see immediate results - every small step you take towards a healthier heart is a step in the right direction!

Stay tuned for Part 3

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