When you think of organs that produce hormones, muscles hardly come to mind. Yet in terms of mass, they’re the largest part of the body that releases messenger substances. Over 600 are known, they are called myokines. They have a positive effect on various bodily functions and the heart. And the great thing is: Through exercise, you can ensure that these messenger substances are increasingly released. Many positive effects for the cardiovascular system are attributed to them, even if the details are often not yet understood.
The musculature works for our health even when we sleep. It does this via the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), the calming part of the nervous system. Because resting heart rate and blood pressure decrease in people who exercise regularly, rest becomes more restful – and the body becomes more efficient during exertion. When an athlete exerts himself, the body can ramp up quickly.
150 minutes of workout per week
Partly because of myokine release, medical experts have changed their recommendations regarding exercise in recent years. The current WHO guideline on exercise recommends 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week. When you feel your pulse, this is considered moderate; as soon as you start sweating, it’s called intense exercise. Most recently, the recommendation for strength training of all major muscle groups was added to the guidelines. This is also positive from the point of view of cardiac medicine. In the past, only endurance sports were recommended for the prevention of heart disease and in rehabilitation. Now, moderate strength and interval training is also recommended. In this way, muscle mass can be increased, and more health-promoting messenger substances can be released.
Exercise also ensures that metabolic products that damage the heart disappear from the blood in greater quantities. Cells that are stimulated by exercise remove more fats and glucose from the blood. As a result, cholesterol and blood sugar levels drop. Many of these positive effects are probably due to the reduction of visceral fat. In overweight people, this surrounds the organs in the abdomen and keeps a steady low-threshold inflammation going. Excess visceral fat is broken down during exercise before the other fat deposits.
More muscle mass, more weight
Getting rid of visceral fat is crucial to reducing the risk of heart disease. However, the Body Mass Index (BMI) often used to determine obesity is inadequate for determining progress through exercise. In people who start exercising, muscle mass increases – and it’s heavier than fat. Under certain circumstances, people may even gain weight through exercise. Many people worry about this – but this weight gain is positive.
A good measure of visceral fat is abdominal circumference. It’s easy to measure and isn’t as dependent on stature as weight and BMI. You simply put a measuring tape around the belly at the thickest point: For men, the critical range starts at 94 centimeters, and above 103 you are too fat. For women, the critical interval starts at 80 centimeters, and from 88, slimming is recommended.
However, it’s important for people who aren’t keen on sports not to start too abruptly with too high an intensity. You should start slowly and increase the intensity steadily – in the case of pre-existing conditions, this is best done in consultation with your doctor. But even at an advanced age or in case of illness, it’s still better to exercise than not.
How and where in the body sport does good
Sport trains the heart muscle – more blood can be ejected per heartbeat in people who exercise regularly. A fit heart supplies the body with oxygen-rich blood in fewer beats than an untrained one. That’s why the resting pulse is lower in athletic people. This so-called athlete’s heart may be larger, but this doesn’t pose a risk for heart disease. It’s different with high blood pressure and heart failure. Because the heart must work harder to supply the body with oxygen, it can become morbidly enlarged as a result. To prevent these dangerous diseases, exercise helps.
Unlike the arteries, the vessels that carry the oxygen-deprived blood from the tissues back to the heart have no muscular layer. The veins in the legs in particular benefit greatly when the skeletal muscles, for example in the calves, are working. As soon as they are tensed, they compress the veins, like what compression stockings do. Thanks to this muscle pump, the blood is transported faster on its way to the heart. This makes the heart’s work easier: it has to pump less often because less blood pools in the legs.
People who exercise are more relaxed afterwards – also mentally. Sport activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that has a calming effect. This happens, for example, when the release of activating messenger substances such as norepinephrine is reduced after exertion. This affects the heartbeat, which slows down. Blood pressure at rest also drops. Sport probably also releases messenger substances that have a direct positive effect on the psyche. Studies show that in the case of depression, psychotherapy in conjunction with exercise is more successful than without.
A distinction is made between fat that lies under the skin and fat that surrounds the organs inside the abdomen. The latter, visceral fat, is considered to be particularly unfavorable because this tissue constantly secretes messenger substances that are held responsible for clogging the blood vessels, among other things. A lot of visceral fat increases the risk of heart attack. Exercise reduces this fat and its harmful effects better than diet.
The pulse that can be felt is caused by the pressure wave that the heartbeat triggers in the arteries. The vessel walls, which contain a layer of muscle, are therefore stretched. This happens more in athletes because the heart ejects more blood at once when moving. This stretching keeps the vessels fit. The muscles in the arterial walls are exercised, and they can narrow or widen the veins as needed. Harmful plaques can be deposited less easily. Messenger substances released by the muscles probably also contribute to this.
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