A holistic view of your heart

The heart is a complicated thing for more than one reason and having a holistic overview of the heart can be beneficial on many levels – especially if you’re on a mission to get fit and healthy.

On this fitness journey, it’s important to realise that it’s possible to harm yourself if you’re not educated on, or aware of, the needs and limits of your heart.

We look at three aspects when considering an overview of heart health and what you should pay attention to, and what to avoid.


Getting your heart rate up with regular cardio exercise is important. As your heart rate rises, a number of things happen. For example: the amount of oxygen in your blood increases along with an increase in endorphins. In addition, regular cardio exercise activates your immune system, helps your heart pump blood more efficiently, and increases your stamina over time.

But, on the other hand, if you push yourself too hard during a cardio session it can result in:

  • Microscopic tears in muscle fibres (which won’t have time to heal if you continue to over-exercise) and increased risk of injuries;
  • A catabolic state, in which your tissues break down;
  • Excess cortisol (stress hormone) release, which contributes to catabolism and chronic disease;
  • A weakened immune system;
  • Insomnia (usually if your workout is in the afternoon or evening).

No one rule applies to everyone as each person’s body is unique, and so is their reason for exercising.

Listen to your heart. No, really. Listen to your heart. By this, we don’t mean that it’s vital to wear a fancy gadget such as a heart monitor or smartwatch, but it is important to pay attention to what your body and heart is communicating to you.

If you are a professional athlete, such as a long-distance runner or cyclist, monitoring your heart more accurately with applicable technology would make sense to avoid pushing your heart rate into the danger zone.

The same applies to someone who’s been diagnosed with heart disease, for example. For someone like this, it’s imperative to monitor their heart rate continuously and accurately to avoid serious injury or worse, fatality.

Don’t rely on the machines at the gym to give you a 100% accurate idea of whether your heart is working too hard or not. Keep in touch with your own body and don’t exercise if you’re feeling sick or have a fever. Stop exercise if your heart is beating irregularly or if you’re having heart palpitations. If you’re feeling any pain or pressure in your chest, neck, arm, jaw or shoulder don’t ignore it! Stop and rest for 15 minutes, and if it doesn’t go away, call a doctor.

If you’re serious about losing weight and getting into shape, keep in mind that fat burning doesn’t just have to do with shooting up your heart rate – it may play an important role, but there are other factors that need to be considered as well.

In fact, long cardio workout sessions can often cause more harm than good. Research has found that extreme exercise is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The secret? Find a workout routine that challenges your body enough, while also allowing adequate time for recovery and repair. Keep well hydrated and avoid doing more than two hours of extreme exercise a week.

In reality, exercising for roughly 45 minutes at a time, assuming that you’re exercising correctly and efficiently, will be adequate and allow you to see good results. Remember that short bursts of high-intensity exercise can give you more benefits in less time.


Food and nutrition is another important factor to keep in mind when it comes to heart health. What’s the use of exercising non-stop but still including foods in your diet that are bad for your heart? You’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment, or worse, serious health problems.

Here are a few ideas of what should be included in a healthy-heart diet, and what should be limited or avoided:


  • Salmon
  • Oatmeal
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits
  • Soy products
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Broccoli, spinach, kale
  • Avocado
  • Garlic


  • Foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat
  • Saturated fat and trans-fat (replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated).
  • Foods and beverages with added sugars like soft drinks
  • Margarine
  • Deep fried foods
  • Condiments such as bottled tomato sauce
  • Cheese


Not to say that there is anything wrong with taking supplements, but it seems that supplements have become somewhat of a trend among regular gym goers. The truth is, a varied and nutritious diet is still the best multivitamin. Instead of consuming isolated nutrients like antioxidants in pill form, rather eat more foods that contain them.

Before you take any supplements to help you lose weight or build muscle faster, ask the advice of a medical professional.

Your heart is your most vital organ – it’s your source of life and it’s therefore worthwhile educating yourself on heart health because only with a healthy heart can the beat go on…

About My Health and Fitness

Welcome to My Health and Fitness, a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!

If you would like to become part of our content team as a health and fitness professional, please email us at info@myhealthandfitness.co.za.

Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before trying out a new exercise routine or making drastic changes to your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.

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