It's time to start listening to your heart — really listening. Here in India, some of the heart disease statistics are genuinely staggering. For example, did you know that 50 percent of all heart attacks among Indians occur in people below 50 years of age? Or that India is home to 30 million heart patients? If these stunning facts have made you resolve to show your heart a little more love, you'll want to start paying closer attention to your cardiovascular fitness.
In addition to traditional routine tests, such as blood pressure, temperature, and pulse rate, doctors are starting to understand the importance of a new vital sign: cardiovascular fitness. In fact, your cardiovascular fitness levels can have as big an impact on your overall health as factors such as smoking, hypertension and high cholesterol. A simple fitness test or two may provide key insights into your overall health.
Cardiovascular Fitness as a Vital Sign
Your cardiovascular fitness, also called your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), says a lot about your health and the potential for health outcomes. Simply put, CRF measures how well your body takes in oxygen and delivers it to your muscles and organs during prolonged periods of exercise.
Generally, the higher your CRF level, the lower your risk for developing a variety of conditions. For example, low levels of CRF are associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and higher mortality rates, while optimizing CRF prior to surgical interventions may improve outcomes, including surgical risk, mortality and the ability to function after surgery.
The growing link between CRF and overall health has prompted healthcare practitioners in India to recommend measuring cardiorespiratory fitness by asking their patients to undertake a series of exercises during regular health assessments.
Adding Heart Health to the Checklist
Adding CRF tests to traditional tests conducted at regular physicals may help better evaluate your risk for certain health conditions and enable you to get on a healthier road faster.
Amongst some of the common exercises used by health professionals to assess your cardiorespiratory health is a fitness test. Also known as a stress test, this routine incorporates a few well-known exercises for the heart. The test gathers information about how your heart performs during physical activity since exercise makes your heart work harder and faster than when you're at rest.
During a typical stress test, you will walk, jog or run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while your heart rhythm, blood pressure and breathing are monitored. Your health professional will go over the results with you after the test. Doctors may recommend avoiding exercise stress if you suspect you have a heart condition or irregular heart rhythm, so be sure to consult with your physicians about whether a fitness test is right for you.
Your doctor may also recommend cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPX) in some cases. During a CPX test — typically riding a stationary bicycle — a doctor measures your oxygen level, the amount of carbon dioxide you're producing and your breathing pattern. This additional information allows for the most accurate and standardized quantification of your CRF.
The stress test and CPX should be performed only under medical supervision.
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