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Make the rest of your years

The Best Years in Life


How to Rebuild Your Lungs


By Al Sears, MD

Before you force yourself to blindly do more exercise - for whatever benefits you think it will have - read what I'm going to tell you today about Dr. Irving Dardik's discoveries. He was the first Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Sports Medicine Council. And the exercise techniques he developed can actually reverse chronic diseases as diverse as Parkinson's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis.

The story begins with the death of Dr. Dardik's friend Jack Kelly (brother of Grace Kelly). He was an Olympic oarsman and the President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. One morning, he went out for his usual run ... and then dropped dead of sudden heart failure.

Knowing that heart attacks often occur this way - after running or jogging, not during the workout - Dr. Dardik said, "People have been running for thousands of years, and they didn't die like that. It must be something in the way people run now that causes heart failure after exertion." He also noted that long-distance runners are prone to infections and chronic diseases, especially heart disease.

Comparing the exercise practices of those runners to the habits of native people and animals, Dr. Dardik said that animals and natives in the wild run in short bursts. Then they take a little time to rest. And they repeat this cycle of exertion and recovery. He concluded that long-distance runners die of heart attacks because they have not trained their hearts to recover. (This is the same conclusion I reported in my bookThe Doctor's Heart Cure.)

Based on these observations, Dr. Dardik developed his fascinating concept of viewing the heart's exertion and recovery when you exercise as a wave - the "Heart Wave."

When you begin an exercise, your heart rate starts to climb. When you stop, it starts to come back down. If you plot these changing rates over time - going up, then down - it does, indeed, form a wave.

Inside that wave of exertion, you have smaller waves from each heartbeat -alternating waves of exertion (systole) and recovery (diastole). Dardik was the first to see these as "waves within waves." The illustration below will help you visualize it.

What this means is that if you mimic the natural rhythms of your heart by exercising in intervals of exertion and recovery, you will gradually increase your heart rate variability (HRV). Simply stated, the greater your HRV, the better your overall health. The more limited your HRV, the greater your risk of chronic disease.

In addition to increasing their heart rate variability, previously non-athletic women in Dr. Dardik's study also developed:

  • greater lung volume

  • lower blood pressure

  • improved immune function

  • lower stress and anxiety

  • a greater sense of energy and well-being

And all of these changes occurred in just eight weeks.


Your 10-Minute Plan for Reconnecting to the Rhythm of Life

For this exercise, you can choose any activity that will provide exertion for your heart. A treadmill, elliptical machine, bicycle, jumprope, or trampoline will work well, as will alternate sprinting and walking. (Of course, if you have a heart problem you should check with your personal physician before doing any exercise.)

To maximize the amplitude of your heart wave, keep your exercise interval brief. Thirty seconds is enough. Immediately upon finishing this brief sprint, put emphasis on your recovery. Instead of merely resting, participate in the process by calming your mind and imagining your heart rate slowing down.

To help with this, focus on each exhalation. As you breathe out, use your imagination to bring your heart rate down. In your mind's eye, see your heart relaxing - slowly and steadily returning to its resting rate. When your heart rate recovers, do another interval.

Today's Action Plan: Here's a sample program you can do in about 10 minutes. And - unlike the drudgery of the much-touted aerobic regimens - this one is fun, and your benefits will be fast.

INTENSE EXERCISE                         30 seconds.
Rest                                                         2 minutes
INTENSE EXERCISE                         40 seconds.
Rest                                                         2 minutes
INTENSE EXERCISE                         40 seconds.
Rest                                                         2 minutes
INTENSE EXERCISE                         30 seconds.
Rest                                                         2 minutes
INTENSE EXERCISE                         20 seconds.
Rest                                                         2 minutes

Repeat this every couple of days, gradually increasing the intensity in each session. (If you're on a stationary bike, for example, increase the resistance a little each day so it's gradually harder to pedal.) Now you are incorporating "progressivity" into your workout.

Progressivity - a principle that Dr. Dardik neglected - is the first principle of my trademarked PACE® (Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion) program. The idea is that by making incremental increases in the intensity of your exercise, you will continue to change your body through time.

By the time you're on the above program for six weeks, you should be giving the 20-second interval all you've got ... then quickly changing your focus to recover as fast as you can. That will focus your training on increasing your heart rate variability.
This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Sears or the respective author, who retains copyright as marked, unless otherwise noted.

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