Your heart is the most important muscle in your body, says the American Heart Association, and regular exercise can strengthen it just like your other muscles. And just as your other muscles will adjust to higher levels of work, so will your heart. Moderate to intense physical activity, which includes aerobic activities such as walking and running as well as exercises such as situps, will increase your heart rate, an indication of how hard your heart is working. The stronger your heart, the better your cardiovascular endurance, which is a measure of how well your heart and lungs supply your muscles and organs with oxygen.
Heart Rate 101
When you’re at rest, your heart works just hard enough to send blood to sustain your basic life functions, such as breathing. This is called your resting heart rate. Your heart also has a maximum, which is how fast it can safely beat. To estimate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220, says the American Heart Association. Somewhere between your resting and maximum heart rates is your target heart rate zone, which is the ideal range for your aerobic activity. Getting your heart rate up into this target zone -- between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum heart rate -- will help your heart get the most from its workout.
You’ll maximize the benefits of including situps in your workout routine the more precise you make the exercise. Begin lying on your back, bending your knees at a 90-degree angle. Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor at all times. Place your hands behind your neck or head or across your chest. You can also keep your hands at your sides, though this position may not work for everyone. Now slowly curl your body up, bringing your chest as close to your knees as possible. Don’t keep your back straight on your ascent or descent. The slower you rise and return to a lying position, the harder your heart, lungs and abdominal muscles work. Exhale with the exertion, as you lift, and inhale as you return to the starting position.
Situps shouldn’t be easy, since you’re working the majority of your abdominal muscles hard. You’re also asking your heart to pump more blood and oxygen through your body to support your activity, according to the American Heart Association. The longer you incorporate situps into your routine, the more used to the exercise your heart and lungs will get. And situps don’t just benefit thoe organs; the more precise the situp, the better it will target and strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Keep In Mind
No matter the type of situp you do -- and there are lots of variations -- you’re going to work -- and this work can help strengthen your heart. Even adding a few sets of between 15 and 30 situps to your workout once or twice a week will boost your heart health. But don’t overdo it, says Gerald Fletcher, M.D., a cardiologist and professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, Florida, since exceeding your target heart rate can lead to cardiac problems. “If you’re not able to carry on a conversation, that may be a bit too much.”
- American Heart Association: Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life
- American College of Sports Medicine: The Heart Rate Debate
- Mayo Clinic: Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories
- American Heart Association: Target Heart Rates
- Mayo Clinic: Fitness: Exercise Intensity: Why It Matters, How It’s Measured: Gauging Intensity Using Your Heart Rate
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.