When we think of professional athletes training, we think of crazy workouts that the average person could never do. As it turns out, that’s not the case.
The biggest difference between the way an ordinary person works out and how the pros approach training is in their style of training.
Understanding how pro athletes take care of themselves and adopting some of their strategies is worth the effort to attain a healthier heart.
Athletes heart healthy strategy was especially eye-opening during COVID.
According to a recent study of nearly 800 professional athletes diagnosed with Covid-19, less than 1% developed cardiac issues. The results from a study, published in JAMA Cardiology
Three ways in which we can emulate a pro athlete with regards to strengthening our heart.
Pro athletes have the same info we do, they just have the experts and the discipline to follow it smartly.
I’ve read countless articles on the benefits of exercise on our heart, interval vs. moderate workouts, getting a good nights sleep, giving our body a chance to rest, and eating a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.
So what do the athletes do that we don’t? They really don’t do anything different – their approach is something any of us can emulate. Here are a few pro tips.
Exercise in intervals; instead of steady state cardio which is exercising for 20 min or longer at a steady pace
Prioritize rest and recovery
Take a heart-healthy approach to nutrition
Exercise in intervals. Boost heart health with high-intensity training (HIIT)
Dana Santas, who is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports has been working with more than 45 professional sports teams for over twenty years. According to Dana most athletes’ programs are not heavily focused on moderate-intensity continuous training also known as MICT.
She observed that for the most part athlete strength and conditioning focus on interval training, and moving from sets of one exercise to another. And this is generally performed in a high-intensity interval training or HIIT style.
HIIT is alternating bursts of intense exercise with slower, easier activity in between.
Why does this difference in training style matter when it comes to heart health?
For decades there has been growing and proven evidence that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) shows greater effectiveness on heart health compared with moderate exercise (MICT).
The benefits of HIIT can be seen across a wide range of cardiovascular and metabolic measures, in both healthy people and people with a chronic illness.
Further evidence of HIIT’s heart-strengthening ability was shown in a clinical trial of 93 patients with coronary artery disease published in JAMA Cardiology. After four weeks, cardiorespiratory fitness improved by 10% with HIIT compared to only 4% with MICT.
Do you find HIIT workouts too difficult? Good news, even moderate exercise on a regular basis has long term benefits.
The good news is that over a period of 12 months in the JAMA study both groups of patients with coronary disease who did HIIT or MICT – both showed heart health improvements by 10% and 7%, respectively.
Prioritize rest, recovery, and sleep
The importance of rest and recovery is often underestimated. Every aspect of our physical and mental well-being relies on the ability to rest, recover and sleep. The heart muscle is no exception.
“Getting good sleep is important for your energy levels — and it’s critical for your heart health. Adults who sleep less than 7 hours each night are more likely to say they have had health problems, including heart attack, asthma, and depression. Some of these health problems raise the risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even pro athletes understand how important a good night’s sleep is.
That’s why many professional sports teams seek advice of sleep experts. They understand the importance of sleep for peek performance and even invest in spaces such as napping rooms and sleep pods at their facilities to help their athletes get optimal rest.
For us regular folks all we have to do is make sure we get at least seven hours of good night’s sleep by making it a priority. Make sure your room is dark. Cool. Turn off all electronics. Don’t use an electronic clock with a blue light. Be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep to help your heart and your body rejuvenate for the next day.
For more ideas on how to rest and recover, and get a good night’s sleep here are a couple of Dana’s articles.
Take a heart-healthy approach to nutrition
Professional sports teams understand that nutrition fuels the bodies of their athletes. That’s why they employ nutrition experts to ensure that the food served to their players fuels their performance and also enhances their overall health including heart health.
Follow a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, omega-3s and lean protein
Jeremy Chiang who is a registered nutritionist and coach for the Blue Jays recommends a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, omega-3s and lean protein with limited saturated and trans fats such as bacon.
“As the mobility coach for the Blue Jays, I remember a few years back when the team stopped serving bacon every morning at breakfast and started substituting with leaner options, like turkey bacon. Players and coaches alike weren’t thrilled but understood the importance — just like you can at home, by limiting foods with unhealthy fats.” Jeremy Chiang, registered nutritionist
Half the plate should consist of vegetables
Chiang requires every meal consist of fruits and vegetables covering half the plate, while staying mindful about the amount of starchy carbs based on training and playing time.
In our case who aren’t pro athletes, we can probably get away with 1/4 of our plate consisting of carbs. He also suggests including lean protein in every meal and encourages Omega-3 rich snacks like trail mix.
Meal planning isn’t just appropriate for pro athletes but a good way for any of us to plan healthy meals for the busy work week ahead.
Water: Hydration which is often overlooked is very important for proper nutrition and heart health
“We need to be hydrated to properly absorb nutrients. Without hydration, blood thickens, putting more stress on the heart.” Chiang recommends hydrating with half your body weight in ounces of fluid, adding more based on activity level.
I love water! The best way I find to get my daily dose of water and more of it, is to fill a water bottle with water in the morning. I have one in my kitchen and drink from it all day, and refill when it’s over. Just having it around me motivates me to take a swig.
I also find that when drinking from the water bottle I drink a lot more than when i drink from a glass. Try it! I also have a water bottle in the car and carry one when on walks or a hike. Cheers to water 💧!
Even though we may not be a member of a sports team, by taking tips from their heart healthy playbook, we too can work on becoming a pro at heart health ❤️💙.